Folk Museums - European Origins

European Origins

The earliest open-air museum appeared in Scandinavia in the late 19th century. One reason may be the ancient tradition of moving and re-erecting wooden buildings, based on the local log building technique. The idea was a predictable further development of the by then well-established indoor type of museum. In order to collect and display whole buildings, it would have to be done outdoors. Precursors of open-air museums were the "exotic" pavilions, "antique" temples, "ancient ruins" and "peasant cottages" to be found in 18th century landscape parks. Later precursors were the real or constructed peasant cottages shown at the international exhibitions of the mid- to-late 19th century.

The world's first open-air museum was King Oscar II's collection near Oslo in Norway, opened in 1881. The original plans comprised 8 or 10 buildings intended to show the evolution of traditional Norwegian building types since the Middle Ages. Only 5 were realized before the king lost interest because of the expenses involved. The royal open-air museum was later incorporated into the Norsk Folkemuseum, established on an adjacent property in the 1890s. Influenced by a visit to the Norwegian open-air museum, Artur Hazelius in 1891 founded the famous Skansen in Stockholm, which became the model for subsequent open-air museums in Northern and Eastern Europe, and eventually in other parts of the world. The name "skansen" has also been used as a noun to refer to other open-air museums and collections of historic structures, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

Around 1900, national and regional open-air museums were established in all Scandinavian countries, notably in Norway and Sweden.

Most open-air museums concentrate on rural culture. However, since the opening of the first town museum, Den Gamle By/The Old Town in Aarhus, Denmark in 1914, town culture has also become a scope of open-air museums. In many cases new town quarters are being constructed in existing rural culture museums.

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