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Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm
Stockholm, Sweden
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The Museum of Ethnography traces its origin to the collections brought together by the Royal Academy of Sciences, and thus dates back to the foundation of the Academy in 1739. Though the Academy concentrated on collecting and studying objects of a “natural” kind (“naturalia”) it also acquired or was donated objects which were fashioned by human hands, then classified as “artificialia” or “curiosa”. These were separately exhibited in a succession of fairly cramped venues occupied by the Academy during the 18th century. Important early collections owned by the museum are those delivered by some of the pupils sent out to various corners of the world by the Swedish naturalist Carl von Linnaeus; objects from Japan, from South and West Africa and from James Cook’s two first journeys. His pupil Anders Sparrman, from 1779 as curator in charge of collections, exhibitions and demonstrations, could in a way be considered as the first director of what was to become the Museum of Ethnography. In 1831 all the collections had been ultimately separated from the Academy when the newly created Swedish Museum of Natural History opened up in a building at Adolph Fredrik’s Church Square in central Stockholm. At least from 1841 we know that ethnographic collections were exhibited in a separate room in the building. In 1875, records tell us, they were arranged in six small rooms. In hindsight, somewhat amusingly, the ethnographic objects in this new post-academy organisation were formally subsumed under the vertebrate collections. They lacked full time professional attention of their own. This situation more or less remained until 1900 when they were eventually separated from the Museum of Natural History to form the material assets of a new ethnographic museum. The recognition of the independent character of these collections was very much the result of the work and lobbying carried out by the first director of this museum, Hjalmar Stolpe, and by the fact that the collections from mid-19th century started to rapidly grow. This was in turn the result of growing Swedish contacts with far-off societies and cultures, a history that the museum collections, archives and library mirror. Big exhibitions were staged in Sweden which also included ethnographic displays. Scientific expeditions were sent off not only to arctic places - missionaries established themselves on all continents; diplomatic and other contacts grew; and the development of transports made the world more accessible. The first few decades of the 20th century was the period when the ethnographic as well as archaeological collections expanded in earnest, making the museum far outgrow its dated premises in central Stockholm. In 1930 the museum was transferred to army barracks in the green belt immediately east of the city centre, which were transformed into a functioning museum. These premises were, however, hardly suited for a modern museum and after a protracted campaign the museum in 1978 could move into the modern building, at the same site, tailored for its needs, premises which it occupies today. The museum nowadays houses some 220.000 objects, archives dating back to the early 18th century, a substantial, partly unique library, close to a million photographs and images and 3,000 m2 of exhibitions. From 1902 the museum functioned as a section of the Swedish Museum of Natural History and in 1966 it became an independent authority under the government. From 1999 it was one of four museums under a newly created authority, the National Museums of World Culture. The first image shows the museum as it looks like today in its new building. There is also an overview of what the museum looked like before then (on the same spot) when it was housed in old army barracks, and how it appeared earlier in the 20th century when it was situated in central Stockholm. An image from that time shows a part from the Japanese display, and a current image shows a part of a Kongo exhibition, in this case a recreation of the Kongo display in a big exhibition in 1907 about Swedish missionary fields in the world.

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P.O. Box 27 140, Djurgårdsbrunnsvägen 34 
Håkan Wahlquist 



  • Balinese dancer
    AD 20th century ~ AD 20th century
    Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm
  • Vajrapani
    AD 18th century ~ AD 18th century
    Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm
  • Rangda
    AD 19th century ~ AD 19th century
    Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm


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