Liisa Oikari, researcher at The Mannerheim Museum

Museums are going digital with a fast pace. Nowadays, some sort of a digital presence is even expected of a museum. Virtual tours and online collections gather audience and content users.  Museum collections intrique and people want to have access to them online in various ways. This is of course a very welcoming task for museums, because that is what museum collections are for, they are collected and preserved for societies and people of today and of tomorrow. Museums curate our mutual cultural heritage. During resent years, various museums have offered their collections online. Releases consisting of hundreds and thousands of objects are being opened for collective enjoyment and use. The collections are shown and presented for use, they are not just hidden in collection spaces around the world.

Home museums also receive demands as well as wishes concerning digital culture. Digital platforms offer possibilities for home museums, fresh ways of presenting the collections and the historical person. When it comes to the accessibility of the museum collection, a home museums hands are in a way tied. It is difficult to present the objects in new ways inside the museum, because in a home museum, the authentic interiors are an essential part of the museums identity and permanent exhibition. It is also challenging to loan objects out, and thus present them in a new light, because the illusion of a home migh break, if something is missing from the original interior. This illusion of a home is often a home museums most precious jewel and often a reason for a museum guests visit. A historical home is a fantastic way to go back in time.

The best aspects of a home museum are stability and constancy. A home museum is in a way frozen in time and offers a glimpse into the past. Stability can however also be a burden. For a museum, labeled as a mausoleum, it can be difficult to break free and do things in a new and fresh way. A historical home and its interiors naturally emphasize certain things and leave others unmentioned, Thus it can be challenging to present things that do not arise on their own from the permanent exhibition. Challenged can also arise from the perception of historical person in question and the simplified, or even marginalized, way of perceiving him or her. New aspects might be difficult to push through and the canonised way of perceiving the person displaces the others. How does a home frozen in time and a person from another era stay interesting and relevant in today’s society? Is a physical museum building with its exhibitions enough, or is a digital presence a necessity?

Gustaf Mannerheim still seems to intrique people. A mythical Mannerheim is a part of the history of Finland and Finland is a part of the history of Mannerheim. However, the further we drift from Mannerheim and his time, his character becomes more and more simplified. The Mannerheim Museum promotes national and international understanding of Mannerheim. The home museum presents Gustaf Mannerheim’s life and Finland’s history to the public. The museum does not want to present only one interpretation of Mannerheim. He was after all a complex person, of which everyone is entitled to create their own perception. With digital content releases the museum enables the creation of various interpretations and pursues to maintain a diverse view of the historical person that is Gustaf Mannerheim.

Digital releases and presentations of the museum and its collection are not a threat to the traditional museum visit. Especially in the case of a home or a house museum the historical interiors and objects within create a unique experience that is very hard to replicate digitally. The means of digitalisation are not to replace one way of accessibility but to increase them. A physical object and a digital representation do not compete with each other, they are two separate things and complete one another. One might think that digitalisation is a very natural way for museums to expand their functionality and reach new audiences. Digital platforms are a way accessing the museum. Creation of digital content and releasing them to the public however is not a small thing, it takes a lot of work.  Beacuse of this a digital version of a collection object is an object in itself, regarding how many hours it has taken the museum to make it, not to mention the curating and releasing a whole set of digital objects.

As fascinating as a home museum with its interiors can be, it sets unique challenges for museum work. In the Mannerheim Museum the narratives on a museum tour revolve around certain matters, the permanent exhibition, the home interiors, focusing mainly on the life and career of Gustaf Mannerheim. Temporary exhibitions examine Mannerheim through different themes and angles, but this exhibition too is confined to a visit to the museum building. Special tours give an opportunity to bring forth new angles, but still, the familiar story about Gustaf Mannerheim is often what the museum visitors expect. The museum needs to be able to reach different audiences and cater to various interests. A familiar and an easy to use digital platform can be perfect for one but much to difficult to grasp to the other. There are many Mannerheims for different people: the commander-in-chief Mannerheim is the one and only Mannerheim for one, Mannerheim and his culinary ways is the interest of the other and the third is mainly just interested in the ethnographic objects that Mannerheim collected during his travels across Asia. It is also essential to pay attention to the international audience. Gustaf Mannerheim was a cosmopolitan with several connections outside of Finland. Looking at these connections on international digital platforms advances the museums strategic mission; to promote the national and international understanding of Gustaf Mannerheim.

Digitalisation offers a solution to the previously mentioned challenges in reaching a larger audience and expanding the angles of exhibiting his legacy in a more versatile way. The digital content releases act as small exhibitions in a digital environment. When the exhibition is not confined to a physical space, it is possible to exhibit Gustaf Mannerheim from new point of views and in interesting ways. The permanent home interiors of course present the resident in a most honest way and the temporary exhibition space in the museum building offers a stage for special exhibitions. However the museum tour that lasts for an hour is in the end rather a short time to delve into the personal history of Mannerheim and examine details and special themes. When a curated collection of objects is released on a digital platform, the museum can reach a larger audience and is able to expand its themes and topics.

How are these digital platform used? The release of the Mannerheim Museums collection as a data dump is probably not the best way to do things. Mannerheim, the cultural historical objects in his life, photographs and archives should be released as curated sets, with everything tied together by the personal history of Gustaf Mannerheim. New interpretations of Mannerheim are enabled when more and more content is available for the public, and the sense of Mannerheim as a person and as a part of this world is broadened. In fact, the Mannerheim Museum already has a wonderful curator, Gustaf Mannerheim himself. Everything in the museums collection is somehow tied to him, so everything has importance and value. The museum only has to sort through all the material and create coherent entities which to present to the audience in engaging ways.

The Mannerheim Museum has taken steps towards digitalisation. a 3D museum tour is available on the museum homepage. Gustaf Mannerheim and the museum collections are constantly present in social media. Videos released on Youtube are compact little plunges into various themes. It will be possible to get to know the museum collection through Finna and Europeana in the future. The traditional museum exhibitions and the digital platforms together form a multifaceted view of a historical person and past times. A traditional museum visit offers a time travel experience. Digital content adds layers to understanding Mannerheim’s persona and his life. With these tools Gustaf Mannerheim remains an interesting figure and relevant even in the future.


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Photo: Mannerheim-museo / Liisa Oikari