A Museum of Feelings? Flemish Museums taking the pulse of society

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paperResearch


What is the role of museums and cultural heritage organisations in Flanders when dealing with shared cultural trauma or the collective remembering of painful events? What effect does a museum, as a setting and a method, have on these processes? What are the challenges and problems? The answer is quite clear-cut in the case of museums that are also memorial sites such as Kazerne Dossin in Mechelen, Museum dr. Guislain in Ghent and the Father Damian Museum in Tremelo, for whom these processes are at the core of their raison d’être. Flemish museums that specifically take up a moral responsibility are, however, exceptions that prove the rule. In fact, in museum practice we notice museums struggling with the different roles and tasks they are supposed to execute. They should take care of their collections (collection value), their audiences and communities (educational, societal, experience values) and ensure their economic sustainability. Generally, museums acknowledge their societal roles but when push comes to shove, the collection value seems to prevail.
In this paper we will demonstrate that museums in Flanders are trying to make a shift from object-oriented and inward-looking institutions to human-oriented and outward-looking organisations, willing to take (moral) responsibilities in society. We will explain why it is difficult, however, to achieve this goal. We will argue that a Eurocentric, modern, knowledge-oriented, intellectual and rational understanding of museums, that goes back to the 18th century of Enlightenment, is at the root of this specific focus and problem. We will challenge that model by proposing and discussing a ‘museum of feelings’ as an alternative.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKU Leuven, Conference 'Sense of Place', 22-25 November 2017
PublisherKU Leuven
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • museology


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