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History Unframed

A framework for the analysis of local history museums


As any good journey, mine started with drugs and Slavoj Žižek.

The topic I had in mind from early on was Opium as it is absolutely intertwined with colonialism and has a lot of very intriguing historic, social and political aspects to it. This interest was mainly triggered by episode 15 of the Alternativlos podcast and episode 5 of Can't Get You Out of My Head by Adam Curtis.

My other interest came in form of a very simple and yet infinitely complex question:

What is indigenous in Europe?

This came to my mind while watching quite a few lectures by Slavoj Žižek where he discusses our understanding of identity and universality, especially these 10 minutes and this Huey Newton quote from For a Left that dares to speak its name (October 8, 2019 at the Institute for the Radical Imagination).

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It got me into a very broad research mode (miro board), looking at the UN definition of indigenous and who in Europe is considered to be it. But also more generally evaluate the forming of such notions and the dynamics of populations and identity. Through digging deeper into how ethnic groups work (e.g. see Ethnohistory and especially Ethnogenesis) I identified the history of the nation state to be of the highest importance in that story. In our modern understanding it originated with the Peace of Westphalia and distributed throughout the world through colonialst practices. But exactly those practices must have emerged somewhere within mostly European nations. Which European groups and histories were erased (literally and metaphorically) to create this false universality? This was to be the topic of a project with the title „Birth of all Nations“.

(Quick general side note here: We tried to search for papers on the topic of indigeneity in Europe on ProQuest and didn't find a thing. That is one very telling sign and legitimizes further analysis of this topic as well.)

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The title references the role of mythology and fiction in nation-building and politics which I want to briefly outline some examples of here because I think it is fascinating and absolutely worth another project at another time.
The Clansman was written by Thomas Dixon Jr. and has a very fictionalized understanding of Scottish clans but through the film-adaptation The Birth of a Nation the rituals, clothing etc. became integral to the actual forming of the Ku Klux Klan.
In Britain Cecil Sharp extracted songs, dances and instruments from the rural population and created the idea of folk music as a basis for a romanticized, natural, nationalistic „mythical version of the past“ (as Adam Curtis fittingly calls it). This was also heavely inspired by the Völkisch movement in Germany as manifested in the occultist Thule Society („Study Group for Germanic Antiquity“) which sponsored the predecessor of the NSDAP. (Occultism in Nazi Germany is in itself another interesting and not very well known topic.)


This was the obvious feedback on the midterm presentation. A very broad interest and research is usually essential to my process (I call it Inverse Emergence; basically overcomplication). The one thing that really clicked for me was when Sebastian Meier mentioned the framework as a means of structured focus.

I narrowed my concept further down and started thinking about Heimatmuseums (as every bilingual person will atest to: good luck explaining this. „Local History Museum“ is an accurate but quite weak translation and not comparable to the image that exists on the listeners inner eye when mentioning a „Heimatmuseum“).
Heimatmuseums are often pretty strange, but also fascinating and a testament to very decicated people especially within smaller, rural communities. What made them so intriguing to me, was the idea, that they might pose a field of research and analysis concerning my prior, overarching question of European Indigeneity. The word „Heimat“ itself is of course from a leftist perspective in this context, if not to be called problematic, than definitely up for an interesting discussion.

At this point I was still more into the idea of visiting various museums, analysing them, finding similarities and differences, developing a framework from that, writing a paper, suggesting possible changes, building an exemplary exhibition as a physical model, destroying capitalism once and for all while I'm at it and so on and so on…

This didn't seem quite in scope but I had to start somewhere which meant a first museum visit to the City Museum (also a kind of Heimatmuseum) of Potsdam.

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It became very clear that from this visit alone an enormous amount of work could be created. I starting noting down things that caught my eye and which should be examined more critically. By doing so I also organized that collection into categories and built the framework which is presented below. It is explicitly from a visitors perspective and for other visitors because this is the only honest position I can take as I don't study museology or have spent years practicing it any way. But I can practice critical thinking combined with the tools I do know and hope that it is worthwile in furthering interest in city museums as they are very important elements of any city and examine them in the context of the Decolonization everywhere.

I was in the museum two times for at least two hours each. In total I saw eight other visitors (of which half were rushing through it). I heard one person tell the other (clearly commenting on the emptiness):
„This has to be a very cool museum“

Go and visit it some time please. It's free and basically on the way to FHP for most.

Focus ever on!

It's quite fascinating that nearly every question in the framework could expand into new projects and research of quite impressive scale themselves which highlights the importance of constructing this framework in the hope that every person will pick their own topic, interest and points of analysis from it and gets excited about museums!


The means of the framework are in this case not so much about conveying a certain set of rules but more about providing a structured, accessible approach to museum analysis or museology in general. It's mainly a framework of questions to question frames.

Nine categories form the main structure:

  • Environment
  • Space & Connection
  • Navigation
  • Staging
  • Labels
  • Framing & Representation
  • Senses
  • Interactivity
  • Accessibility

Each category has a short introduction text, four main questions and an example analysis from the Potsdam Museum. The four main questions each enclose more specific questions. Some are opening up a concrete set of possible variations. These have three illustrations and a short descriptive text for each. The examples from the Potsdam Museum have a title image and a text combined with more images from the exhibition. The text is written in a non-academic fashion to further convey a visitors perspective as with the visual design in general.

The first five categories could be considered the basis for Framing & Representation which is the most important category as it binds the insights together and has the potential to help inform a partly answer to my original question about indigeneity in Europe.

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Visual Design

For all nine categories I designed icons which support the framework visually as well as help orientation and recognition. They were not supposed to follow any guidelines or be on their own immediately recognizable. Some are a bit more abstract as they are always combined with the category title and never show up alone.


Whenever there are different, concrete possibilities within the answer scope of a question it is illustrated with three variants. They can range from displaying objects or scenes to spatial or conceptual diagrams. The illustrations follow a very quick sketch style which is supposed to convey a certain sense of ambiguity: „Now it is drawn like this, but the next version or your own could just as well be different“. It is a subjectivity which shouldn't be hidden away but be shown and understood.

The only major parts of the illustrations which were always drawn with non-broken lines as a small visual emphasis were the cubes which stand in for the artifact. This shape was chosen as it is a very simple one and also a little bit of a visual pun because the cube consists of multiple frames (/rectangles) which feeds back into the concept and design of the website itself.


The photos are supposed to be similar to the illustrations in regard to a subjective, relateable and interchangeable feeling. That's why I chose not to work with my proper digital camera and take very clean pictures but only with my phone which look (and are) more rough and like snapshots. This is of course the kind of interaction and device most visitors would experience and use.

To integrate the photos within the website, not let them stand out that much and also make them look just a little bit better they were screen blended with the background color of the website.


Basteleur (Keussel) was chosen as the main headline font because it traverses history in a really distinctive way. The idea as stated by the designer was a funny blend of medieval-ish and cooperblack-ish typeface. The Cooper Black itself also spans quite some time as it was designed in 1922 and gained popularity at the end of the 60s and throughout the 70s. Combined with the medieval aspect it becomes quite modern especially in the lighter style.

Abordage (Ange Degheest & Eugénie Bidaut) works great as the text font while also having an individual character with geometric but still quite lively shapes.



The landing page obviously serves multiple important purposes. On a visual level all the elements are introduced here: typography, colors, photos and the sketched illustrations. There is also a sense of immediate interaction which is important for all other following elements. The content and concept are hinted to through those visuals and their interaction. The image of the Potsdam Museum is conveying its importance as an example and basis for the framework. It is referencing the current flyer with a similar picture as well. The image is askew, creating a bit of unease and a hint that there might be a problem but also a new perspective. Furthermore it hides the introductory text for the framework and the visitor (of the website and of the museum) has to do some work and look past the facade to get to it.

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This idea of hidden elements and their discoverability is carried through nearly all further aspects of the page. It is a hint at the idea of fractal knowledge (or more like fractal questioning in that case) and an analogy to my process of focusing more and more. It should suggest as well that any of those questions could be and is a whole research field on its own with which one could spend years.

The nine categories are placed into frames, a recurring element throughout the page (it's a work of frames after all). When the visitor hovers over a row it will expand and show the intro text to that section.

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A click on the area or the arrow will further expand the category and reveal more of the structure: four main questions and the title image of the example analysis.

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Any of the four main questions has rectangular highlights placed on certain words which will again expand into a new frame with subquestions and sometimes the three illustrated variations.

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A click on „Potsdam Museum“ or the title image will expand the example. The state (open/closed) of the example frame is synchronized between all categories. This is also made to facilitate additions of other museums in the future.

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Mobile Version

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Indigeneity in Europe is a very difficult topic to wrap your head around as the historic implications and aspects to cover are quite enormous in scale. It generally requires more attention and research. Thus this project is only a very small fraction. It has definitely changed my perception and also appreciation of local history museums. My hope is that it will have the same effect on anyone who might use this framework. Furthermore it is not supposed to be static or finished. It is supposed to be dynamic, changeable, adaptable and has to be questioned itself through its application in museums.

Ein Projekt von



Art des Projekts

Studienarbeit im zweiten Studienabschnitt


foto: Prof. Dr. Marian Dörk foto: Lamin Manneh

Zugehöriger Workspace

Decolonizing Data Visualization – Visualizing Postcolonies


Sommersemester 2022

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nette Farben (doku ist bestimmt auch gut)

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