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Preserving our Heritage-Global Lessons

This summer I traveled to Scandinavia for the first time and was enthralled by the Viking ships, maritime museums, and pervasive seafaring culture.

I was most impressed by Sweden’s Vasa Museum in Stockholm.

The preservation of the 226-foo t, 64-gun warship of King G ustavus II Aldophus, which sank in the harbor on her maiden voyage in 1628 and was salvaged three centuries later, was awesome-in the true sense of the word.

The ship-as-artifact is enough to qualify the museum as first-rate, but the museum goes far beyond that.

Vasa’s story comes alive through exhibits of art treasures, recasted sculptures and ornaments,

human fo rms reconstructed from the skelerons fo und within the shipwreck, and ongoing resea rch on conservation methods.

Their interpretative displays make it one of the best museums I have ever seen .

I was honored to spend a little time with Fred Hocker, research director at the Swedish National M aritime M useums,

and we discussed his upcoming presentation at the International Congress of Maritime M useums in Hong Kong this fall.

I asked Dr.

H ocker to share his thoughts here. We might not all run a museum, bur we can be better armed to articulate why we need to support funding for them. In Dr.

Fred H ocker’s words: “In many museums, research is something that curators or volunteers do in their spare time and as the pressure of providing adequate care of collections with ever-shrinking budgets allows.

This does a disservice to our collections and to our staff.

Active research programs, integrated into the normal activities of a wide range of museum staff, provide a number of benefits to maritime museums:

•They showcase the museum as a living institution, actively creating new knowledge, not simply preserving objects and old knowledge.

•They promote development, encouraging the museum to look at collections in new ways and to reach new audiences.

•They inform the collection and preservation process, allowing museums to set acquisitions policies that are relevant and far-sighted.

•They engage the public, creating awareness of the museum, its collections, and its programming.

•They inspire the museum staff, giving them a chance to harness their interests and energy to the development of competence and knowledge.

•They attract the attention of potential sponsors who may not normally be part of the museum world. At the Vasa Museum, we have seen how beneficial this approach is over the last twelve years.

 Most recently, we completed a major project of replicating and test-firing one of the ship’s 24-pounder cannons.

This proj ect attracted more media attention than all of Sweden’s or her museums combined, it brought us into contact with sponsors who had not previously shown an interest in our activities, and it engaged the entire museum staff.

In the firing trials, we set aside an entire day to teach our guides and museum teachers how to shoot a cannon, so that they could rake that personal experience back to the public.

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