For this post, I chose to focus on the Sitka Historical Museum in Sitka, Alaska and the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik, Iceland. Both are absolutely fascinating places, by the way, and although they have very different scopes and focuses, they both focus a large amount on history.

The National Museum of Iceland focuses on the history of the nation of Iceland. from the landing of the Vikings to the present. Officially, “the role of the National Museum is varied, reflecting its legal obligation as national centre for the preservation and management of cultural heritage, cultural research programmes and promulgation of knowledge and information which relates to the cultural heritage of the nation” (National Museum of Iceland, 2023). The Sitka Historical Museum’s mission statement actually reads quite closely to this, stating, “To preserve and promote the events, stories, and artifacts of the human history of Sitka, as part of the Pacific Norwest coast of North America, to inspire, educate, and benefit the public and future generations” (Sitka Historical Museum, 2023). While one is focused on a national level and the other is focused on a single area, they’re both driven to collect and educate about the history of their pieces of the world.

Another difference that I noticed right off the bat is that the Sitka Historical Museum (SHM) is actively asking the public for donations – not only monetary donations, but donations of actual objects/artifacts! One page on their website has a list of objects that they need for some of their exhibitions, titled “Gaps in the Collection”, and are things like a Tlingit pipe bowl, seal skin money from the Russian American Company, and brown bear pelts, just to name a few! The National Museum of Iceland, on the other hand, has artifacts from Icelandic history that were mostly once private items, or items collected for the museum by direction of the Icelandic Parliament. I did notice though, that some of the projects that the museums worked on were the same in subject matter – hard not to when your people live in the Northernmost part of the world, I imagine! One such project is the preservation of the ancient homes that their people used to live or worship in. In Iceland, turf homes used to dominate the landscape (or at least the livable landscape). These homes and farms had been in existence for a millennnia, but by the 1970s, there were only a few rotting homes left. The preservation project wasn’t so much focused on saving the buildings themselves – in most cases, that was impossible – but to preserve their memory. Today, many of the photographs and measurements that the student project workers made are the only proof that turf houses ever existed. In Sitka, there are drawings and sketches of buildings since rotted, burned, or simply demolished.

If you could have a museum anywhere in the North, where would it be and why?

3 Thoughts to “Northern Museums”

  1. Avatar photoSavanna VonScheele

    I find that I do not necessarily have a place in mind for a museum to be, as there are many already in places I’d like for one to be. I would want more space if I could have anything in general for a museum; it’d be more space! always receiving calls of items that may want to come home or have a placed to be stored while awaiting to be shipped in a secure area would be awesome! If only funds were accessible to get, so museums can get more space.

  2. Hannah Terwilliger

    Ooh that’s an interesting question, I think I would want to have a museum in any of the Nordic countries Probably something with the theme of Vikings because my focus on my history studies after undergrad would be something from the Viking era or early middle-age era. I was thinking about going to Iceland for my future graduate studies for Viking and Medieval Norse Studies (besides Library/Archival studies). So I guess it would be Iceland is where I would want my museum. Awesome post!

  3. Arianna Wyanski

    I think that having a collaborative museum that is about the Inuipiaq people and culture would be interesting. I’m not sure if it would be super effective or where the museum would reside, but I think that it would be a cool way to showcase the culture including the similarities and differences.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.