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Ecomuseum introduction

Eco- Musei / eco-museum 

Eco-museums originated in France, the concept being developed by George Henri Rivière and Hugue de Varine, who coined the term ‘ecomusée’ in 1971. The word “éco” is a shortened form of “écologie”, but it refers mainly to a new idea of the holistic interpretation of cultural heritage, in opposition to the focus on specific items and objects performed by traditional museums. An eco-museum is a museum focused on the identity of a place, based mainly on local participation and aiming to enhance the welfare and development of local communities. There are presently about 300 operating eco-museums globally; about 200 are in Europe, mainly in France, Italy, Spain, and Poland.

Development Introduced by the French museologist Hugues de Varine in 1971, the word eco-museum has often been misused. The definition of an eco-museum is still controversial in contemporary museology. Many museologists sought to define the distinctive features of eco-museums, listing their characteristics. Following a complexity approach, in recent definitions, eco-museums are more appropriately defined by what they do rather than by what they are.


batana croatia

The eco-museum definition in the contemporary museology

Contemporary museums are more and more museums of ideas rather than museums of objects. In this move, it is harder to establish rigorous definitions. Furthermore, the relative diffusion of the views of the Nouvelle Muséologie only makes the situation more chaotic since many of the characteristics believed to be peculiar to eco-museums, such as in situ interpretation or the involvement of the local community, may actually be typical of and effectively implemented by many of the innovative museums
that belong to traditional theme typologies.
From the beginning, one of the most valuable definitions compares an eco-museum with a classic museum: essentially a cultural process identified with a community (population) on a territory, using the common heritage as a resource for development, as opposed to the more classical museum, an institution characterized by a collection, in a building, for a public of visitors (H. de Varine, 1996).

Peter Davis (P. Davis, 1999, Eco-museums: a sense of place, Newcastle, Newcastle Univ. Press) states that the amount of overlap might gauge the degree to which a museum demonstrates essential eco-museum characteristics in a three circles model (community, museum and social, cultural, natural environment) and in its ability to capture a sense of place.

Kazuochi Hoara effectively describes the circles’ contents (K. Hoara, 1998, The image of Eco-museum in Japan, Pacific Friends 25/12).

Maurizio Maggi defines an eco-museum as an exceptional kind of museum based on an agreement by which a local community takes care of a place (M.Maggi, 2002, Ecomusei. Guida europea, Torino-Londra-Venezia, Umberto Allemandi & C.).

an agreement means a long-term commitment, not necessarily an obligation under the law
local community means a local authority and a local population collaborating
take care means that some ethical commitment and a vision for future local development are needed
place means not just a surface but complex layers of cultural, social and environmental values which define a unique local heritage.

The first three issues are part of the so-called local network, while the fourth is quite close to a milieu. These two elements play a central role in Ire’s present studies on the so-called “Place-based Local System”.

Also, the Chinese school contribution must be mentioned.
Su Donghai (Su Donghai, 2006, Communication and Exploration, SCM-IRES-PAT, Trento- Beijing) summarized the intense work developed by the Chinese and Norwegian museologists (among them, the late John Aage Gjestrum) in the last decade of the 20th century in the Liuzhi Principles.

1. The people of the villages are the actual owners of their culture. Therefore, they have the right to interpret and validate it themselves.
2. The meaning of culture and its values can be defined only by human perception and interpretation based on knowledge. Therefore, cultural competence must be enhanced.
3. Public participation is essential to the eco-museums. Culture is a common and democratic asset and must be democratically managed.
4. When there is a conflict between tourism and the preservation of culture, the latter must be given priority. The genuine heritage should not be sold out, but producing quality souvenirs based on traditional crafts should be encouraged.
5. Long-term and holistic planning are of utmost importance. Short-term economic profits that destroy culture in the long term must be avoided.
6. Cultural heritage protection must be integrated into a total environmental approach. Traditional techniques and materials are essential in this respect.
7. Visitors have a moral obligation to behave respectfully. Therefore, they must be given a code of conduct.
8. There is no bible for eco-museums. They will all be different according to the specific culture and situation of the society they present.
9. Social development is a prerequisite for establishing eco-museums in living societies. The well-being of the inhabitants must be enhanced in a way that does not compromise their traditional values.

Some examples:
Different kinds of eco-museum
Ekomuseum (Sweden)
Kuća o batani – Casa della batana (Croatia)
Ecomuseoterredelbrenta (Italy)
– livingmuseum (Australia)

Sara – tourism sector consultant

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