Night at the Museum: Brussels's New European History Museum Could Put Anyone to Sleep

By Marsh, Katherine | Foreign Policy, September 2018 | Go to article overview

Night at the Museum: Brussels's New European History Museum Could Put Anyone to Sleep


Marsh, Katherine, Foreign Policy


EVEN BEFORE U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP LANDED ill Brussels in mid-July to trash-talk NATO allies, it was clear that the European Union was in crisis. In Germany, a weakened Angela Merkel was forced to either tighten migration policy or lose her coalition (she chose the former); in Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the ascendant right-wing Lega party, railed against his country remaining in the eurozone; Hungary and Poland were continuing their creep toward authoritarian rule; and Britain was struggling to figure out Brexit. The opening in May 2017 of a new museum in Brussels devoted to promoting Europe might have served to bolster the flagging union. Yet all it has managed to do is generate more controversy.

The House of European History, which was created by the European Parliament, was roundly criticized even before its doors opened for just about everything: The Platform of European Memory and Conscience, a multinational nongovernmental organization that raises awareness about totalitarianism in 20th-century Europe, said the museum was too soft on communism; Piotr Glinski, the Polish minister of culture and national heritage, accused it of presenting Poland, France, and Ukraine as "complicit in the Holocaust"; Ukrainian scholars complained that curators failed to use the term "Holodomor" for the Ukrainian famine; British tabloids slammed both its price tag, some $60 million, and the designers' choice to highlight a Norwegian paper clip design but not the discovery of penicillin by a Scottish researcher. Branding it a "museum of dumbed-down ideology," the Polish historian Andrzej Nowak said it was so boring that it appeared to put visiting schoolchildren to sleep.

I visited the museum in May to see whether such criticism had merit. I discovered that in its attempt to be, as its founding charter describes it, a "place in which the European idea comes alive," the museum almost entirely ignores what actually breathes life into that idea: Europeans themselves. In its desperation to appear inclusive and sidestep historical controversies, the House of European History veers away from the individual stories and emotional urgency on which continued European unity depends.

Liveliness may have been sacrificed the moment the European Parliament chose a former dental institute to house the museum. The interior still had the sterile, institutional aesthetic of a place you would go for a painful but necessary procedure. The moment I cleared the metal detector, a staff member ushered me upstairs, where I was handed my very own tablet and earpiece. The museum has made much of its state-of-the -art teaching tool, which allows visitors to choose from among 24 languages in which to learn about Europe's common identity. But the tablet's complicated introduction to its own use--which ran a whopping three minutes and 32 seconds--seemed likely to only unify museumgoers in impatience.

I emerged from the sleek glass elevator to the strains of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which has been adopted as the European anthem. The complicated tablet was now my only guide since, in the name of linguistic equality, there was barely any signage. One of the first sections of the permanent exhibition focused on the French Revolution. According to the tablet, after 1789, "some visionary Europeans hoped for the unity of the continent beyond national allegiances." The curators' ideological bent was clear: to emphasize the historical struggle between nationalism, with its militaristic and authoritarian impulses, and continental unity, which is peaceful and democratic.

The museum sets the wars of the 20th century neatly into this framework: It puts a heavy load of blame for World War I, for example, on Slavic nationalism. (For extra emphasis, the pistol used by the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is given a place of prominence in its own glass case.) The aggression of the great powers and their alliances are downplayed. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Night at the Museum: Brussels's New European History Museum Could Put Anyone to Sleep
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.