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The Women's Museum in Denmark
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The Women's Museum in Denmark Merete Ipsen and Jette Sandahl Translated by Joan M. Torykian The goal of the Women's Museum (in Aarhus, Denmark) is to coUed, proted, research, and pass on artifads and other forms of documentation on women's lives and activities. The museum intends to become acknowledged as a national museum by the state. The most recent period of cultural history has been the focus of the museum up to now. This is a period in which women's traditional sphere has been fundamentaUy changed. Everything has dianged—from the preparation of food to clothing, from the rhythms of bodies, days, and seasons of the year to the transmission of traditions, customs, and morals. The coUection of objects demonstrating these changes and the buüding up of the library and archives began in 1983. The Ragpicker's Dream? In the museum's first folder in 1982, we wrote: "Aside from leading generations onward, women's work has often taken a perishable or transient form. To buUd a museum on women's lives is also to search after them, because as a rule they have been consumed—worn out and eaten up. In the same way, it has been the spoken word more than the written one that has transmitted women's knowledge and traditions between generations. To incjuire about women's lives, then, is also to ask people about them, people who so eastiy are made to shut up!" If we draw up a balance shed today, it is quite visibly consumption and wear that characterize the conspicuous and valuable traits of the material objeds we coUed. We sometimes note, in moments of ambivalence , that our storage spaces are more the dream of a ragpicker than that of a merchant. Sirrdlarly, the coUections in the photo archives and the oral histories have been espedaUy successful in documenting both the spheres of life and the ways of experiencing life that have left material objects as a trati. At the same time, these archives create a broader and deeper cultural- and social-historical understanding around the objed. We © 1990 Journal of Women's History, Vol 2 No. 2 (Fall)_____________________ A version of this article first appeared in Kvindeforskning: Nyhedsbrev 3 (1988) [ Women's Research: Newsletter], which is published by the Center for Kvinddorskning , Kebenhavns Universitet Amager and Kvindeforum, Aalborg Universitetscenter . The translator, Joan M. Torykian, from Berkeley, California, is the coordinator of the Armenian Women's Archives Project. Kvindemuseet, Domkirkeplads , 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark. 1990 Merete Ifsen and Jette Sandahl 169 have both memories and material objeds that many wiU find unacceptable (inferior, too personal, too intimate). Absence of Distance The museum is owned and operated by an association that is different from those owning and operating other Danish museums in that only women partiripate in the decision-making process and work for the museum. AU women who are active at the museum, either by formal appointments or by other forms of affiliation, can diredly influence its planning and direction. This process begins with large, monthly meetings of aU active members of the Women's Museum Assodation. To do museum work within such a structure demands great résped for previously made plans, an assurance of easy access to information, and relatively detaüed coordination of the jobs. This dired democracy has worked weU through the last years, with the help of large sums. Appropriations based on the Unemployment Laws have made it possible to butid a new institution from saatch. Today the museum has forty to fifty employees, the greater number of which work in seven-month paid positions or on projeds for youth. Workplaces for Women To create workplaces for women, even temporary ones, has been one of the goals of the Museum Assodation. It is just as important that women of aU ages, sodal dasses, and levels of education be involved now, in its daüy operation, as it was during the museum's formative phase. As a place of work entirely for women, the museum facilitates the cultural history of women. The exhibit on lifestyles and abitities of the older generation offer options for contemporary women. Works on Exhibit Given the fad...