Lithuanian Museums and the Russian Imperial Museum Strategies (Summary)

Jolita Mulevičiūtė (PDF)

In the Russian Empire, museums were developed under the influence of centralist and regionalist tendencies. In the second half of the 19th century, as the imperial culture policymakers increasingly understood the importance of the museum as an effective tool for the realisation of state interests, the growth of provincial public collections gained momentum. However, the tense political climate delayed these processes in historical Lithuanian lands. They started only in the 1890s and proceeded under the close control of the tsarist authorities. The local functionaries promoted museums that glorified the administrative and military power of the Russian Empire, represented the Orthodox Church and assisted in the general education and vocational training of local population. However, after the revolution of 1905 and subsequent liberal reforms, the local ethnic communities got direct access to the processes of museification. This regrouping of cultural forces turned out to be a serious challenge for the state-protected institutions. Promoters of official culture began to look for ways to create a ‘genuine’ local museum capable of attracting the people of the Northwest Region. To strengthen the authority of pro-imperial institutions, they determined to adopt the method of the appropriation of foreign (i.e., non-Russian) heritage.

Simultaneously, along with the attempts to ‘indigenise’ the museum concept, tendencies to unify and standardise the curatorial practices emerged. On the eve of the First World War, the imperial culture policymakers put forward the idea of movable museums and itinerant exhibitions, which could circulate throughout the vast expanse of the country. The project implied not only a utilitarian goal but also an ideological perspective. If successfully implemented, it would assemble state-wide shared visual resources that were potentially suitable for educating the imperial spectator. It was an important undertaking, given that at the same time, non-dominant ethnic groups standardised their cultural vision by collecting their symbolic image archives and founding national visual canons. However, only the Soviet Union, which arose from the ruins of the Russian Empire, realised this plan. As a result, the new communist state began to widely apply the practice of travelling exhibitions in that way, forcefully intervening in the activity of the museums of the Soviet republics.

Keywords: museums, centralisation, regionalism, the Northwest Region, the Russian Empire.