Placing Museum Collections in Context

Historical Collections and Their Contemporary Cultural and Social Relevance

  • Oliver Cackov Faculty of educational sciences


The paper provides a critical reflection of the agency involved in collecting practice of museums and in shaping meaningful entities that were visualized in the past, and how they work today. Museums’ relation to the past, which is a key part of the process how they convey the image of past to the audience, i.e. how they present their own view of history, covers the questions which history is preserved, what narratives are constructed in the museum mechanism, how they are transmitted and who they refer to. If we take the view that museum collections are created in specific socio-historical contexts, and in considering the agencies that shape them, we are to necessarily consider the processes generating those contexts in order to grasp the nature of the practice, then, we have to acknowledge that the practice itself may have a profound influence on shaping that very context. Highlighting the notion of museum collections as loci of encounter and negotiation between museum and society, the paper provides insights into the paradigm shifts of museum collecting in the Republic of Macedonia and into its responses to specific social demands from 1945 to the present. Examining current strategies for bringing historical collections to the public and how museums handle the challenges of contextualizing them in today’s institutional program, particularly in terms of identity and memory, the paper proposes that if museums are considered as critical instruments of fundamental social change, then providing important public influence can only emerge from a clear vision of their future course, which means that research into contemporary cultural and social relevance of historical collections must occur in the intellectual framework of the museum and its objectives in society.

Keywords: museum collecting, historical collections, socio-cultural context, historical narrative, cultural identity, cultural memory