Traditional and historical agriculture in museums

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  • Traditional and historical agriculture in museums

    Agriculture, in the broader sense, has always and in every age been the basis for mans life and development, and its progress has indirectly influenced even the intellectual and artistic life of the area or country concerned. Although nowadays the steady advance of industry and technology seems to mask and reduce the importance of agriculture, that impression is false. Population increases all over the world are setting agriculture ever bigger and more difficult tasks, and these can be met only by applying the achievements of science and technology on an ever wider scale. Hence the advance of science and technology means at the same time progress in agriculture.

    Today there are many specifically agricultural museums functioning all over the world, and indeed there is hardly a museum of any sort which does not show some agricultural objects or at least have some connexion with agriculture. All this leads us to attempt a survey of the broad history of agricultural museums, and of their types and functions. The task is rendered more difficult by the fact that agricultural museums are more affected than other types of museum by developments in the economic and social situation in the countries concerned. We cannot therefore draw conclusions of general validity about them as we can in the case of archaeological, ethnographical or even art collections, and we can only point in this article to a few problems which appear in differing forms in different countries and, more particularly, different continents.

    The history of agricultural museums

    At the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries numerous archaeological, historical and art museums came into being, mainly in Europe. At that period no steps were taken to set up any agricultural museums, because museums, then at. the beginning of their history, were largely treasure-houses, into which agriculture, with its simple implements, did not fit. That was the period in which the development of agriculture on a scientific basis was beginning, and the endeavour was to employ as many machines as possible, models of which were already kept in many agricultural schools as equipment for teaching.

    There can be no doubt that agricultural museums grew out of the world exhibitions which began in 185 I and the national exhibitions wlich followed them. The material brought together for such exhibitions was in many cases used as the basis for agricultural museums and collections. In other cases collections came into being alongside colleges, universities or research institutes, and later became independent. Less usual are instances in which collections have been assembled at the centre of some large estate, showing in the main articles and documents associated with it.

    The main agricultural museums in Europe came into being at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, when the great agrarian crisis of the 1870s and 1880s demanded a radical alteration of the structure of agriculture, and when those responsible for agrarian policy re- cognized what an important part might be played in this field by agricultural

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    exhibitions and by the permanent displays offered by the museums which developed out of them.

    As far as agricultural museums in colonies were concerned, anything that was done at all was for a long time done in the mother countries. In recent years this has changed radically, with the newly independent nations paying increasing attention to their own agricultural problems, and consequently to their museums as well. Here, too, things develop first along the lines of periodic exhibitions, through the desire to preserve the material assembled for this purpose from being scattered again and lost. Museums which have been and are being created in this way bear the imprint of agricultural exhibitions and for the most part deal with present-day problems.

    It may be observed in general that agricultural museums reflect, in their origins, in the nature of their collections and in their entire mode of operating, the social and economic conditions of the country they are situated in. Conse- quently we cannot and should not attempt to describe any universal patterns, but rather to point out their main types.

    The main types of agricultural mu$eBllm

    There are museums which deal with the whole of agriculture or with its main branches. Others concern themselves only with certain details, and there are finally the agricultural collections shown by museums set up for other purposes. If we include all of these we can distinguish the following main types of agricultural museum and collection. Comprehensive agricultural museums, which deal with all, or at least the most

    important branches of agriculture and the processing of agricultural products, and try to give an over-all picture of the entire agriculture of a given area or country. There are relatively few of these, and examples are the agricultural museums of Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt and Hungary. It would be a good thing for the future to further the organization of such museums or the development of other museums in this direction, because only in this

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    way can the agriculture of a country be shown in its manifold aspects and connexions.

    Specialized agricultral museums, which collect and exhibit articles used in one or more branches. There are, for example, many museums devoted to forestry or to the hunting and shooting of game, but there can also be found in various parts of the world independent specialized museums concerned with fishing, viticulture and wine production, horticulture, bee-keeping, the rearing of horses and cattle, agricultural implements and many other subjects. These have the advantage that they can show a small field in greater depth, but the disadvantage that this smaller field is studied in isolation from agriculture as a whole.

    Sections or groups within other museums. There are many museums which contain a section or small division devoted to one branch or another of agriculture. Natural-science museums can be regarded as agricultural museums in so far as they reveal and display the past and present of plant and animal species, but they pay less attention to questions of economic 1s

    MUSE DES ARTS ET TRADITIONS POPULAIRES DAUVERGNE, Riom. Interior of a house in which all movable elements and part of the immovable elements have

    exploitation and their bearing on society. Others which may be included here are the technical museums and ethnographic collections which study the whole field of agriculture, but are concerned mainly with small-scale under-

    been transferred from a village in the Auvergne. 16 MESTSK M~ZEUM, Bratislava. Museum of agriculture. Section of viticulture. Vine-growers feast costumes. Region of Bratislava.

    takings, and in their research have regard above all to ethnic points of view. Collections of agricultural implements and models (for example the Hohen- heim collection) may also be included in this category.

    Regional museums, factory history museums, commemorative museums. These are usually small collections, demonstrating the history of the cultivation and use of one species of plant, for example paprika, cotton, or tea, or dealing with one species of animal or its main breeds or strains. Then there are the commemorative museums set up in honour of some outstanding figure or pioneer in agriculture.

    The above list shows at the same time the relative order of importance of the various types of agricultural museum and collection. The work of these institu- tions, at their various levels, is the concern of the International Association of Agricultural Museums, which works alongside ICOM, endeavouring to give help in the most important questions of principle. This was also the purpose of the three international conferences which haye been held, in Prague, in Stuttgart-Hohenheim and in Budapest, since the association was formed in I 966. Its periodical, A c t a Masearam Agricthrae, published in Prague, not only publishes articles on theory and practice, but also tries to maintain appropriate contacts between the members. At present the headquarters of the association is in Copenhagen, and the next international congress is to be held there in 1974.

  • '7 MUSB DU BERRY, Bourges. Equipment and costumes of the Berry farmers in the nineteenth century.

    . The general tas s of agricultural museums Agricultural museums are fundamentally different from agricultural exhibitions. The latter are of short duration, usually a matter of days, and they demonstrate results achieved and may also show the course thai is to be followed. Museums, on the other hand, have scientifically arranged collections, which are subjected to systematic examination, the results obtained being brought to the notice of the general public through publications or in the form of museum displays.

    The agricultural museum for a country, region or administrative or agricul- tural unit investigates the development of the various branches, from the earli- est days on the social and economic causes of such development and its con- sequences, paying special attention to the scientific aspects. Typical articles used in agriculture, and also articles designed for special use are preserved, as well as documents relating in particular to the origins and uses of the articles and imple- ments, such as drawings, photographs, notes, films and so on. To house such documents the museum will set up a library suitable for use with its collection.

    It may extend its collecting activities to agriculture in the broader sense, that is to stock-rearing, farming, forestry, fishing, hunting, bee-keeping and so on, together with the problems of transport and marketing which they involve, and also to the first stage of the industrial processing of their products. It will deal with every detail of large- and small-scale farming production and will concentrate its activities on the whole production cycle.

    Although agricultural museums cover the whole' chronological scale of agriculture, it is nevertheless right that they should pay special attention to the history and development of the recent past and of the present. These must be given proper weight in the scientific treatment and display of the material, because this, too, may indirectly help the development of agriculture.

    In the interests of a proper representation of the present period it is desirable to maintain a close link with the authorities responsible for agriculture as a whole, with institutes for experimental and scientific research, with the specialized teaching institutes on various levels, and also with the producer organizations and those who direct and represent them. Consequently the museum uses its displays not only to record what has been done, but also to evaluate the present and point out the road to be followed in the future.

    The scientific war ricultural museums It will be obvious from what has been said above that agricultural museums must make use of results achieved in many sectors ranging from natural science

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    to the social sciences. Naturally the museum cannot itself carry out scientific research work everywhere in this extremely extensive field, and so has to draw on the results obtained by others, although of course it may itself produce new scientific results through its research in certain domains. The scientific work of the museums therefore falls into two categories: (a) they collect together and demonstrate in their displays the most up-to-date information available from research by the agrarian, natural and technological sciences, culled from published works, from the research and experimental institutes activities, and from the current practice of successful producer undertakings; in the same way they make use of results obtained by the historical and social sciences where these have a bearing on agriculture; (b) they collect and evaluate articles and information relating to the various branches of agriculture and the primary processing of their products, and arrange them scientifically and in relation to each other. They try to keep records of agricultural implements over the whole of their collecting area-including those kept for instance in other museums- and make use of these in their work. They bring their scientific results before the public through museum displays and in print.

    The educational wopk of agricultural museums

    This is based on their own independent scientific research and the use of the knowledge acquired from the branches of science referred to above. This work is carried out mainly by means of museum displays.

    The displays have to be organized in such a way as to be of interest to agri- cultural experts at various levels as well as to young people studying in this field, and further to offer instruction to various types of schools and to the public in general. It is difficult to combine these tasks, but not impossible provided appropriate methods are used.

    In the light of experience gained over some decades, agricultural museums organize the following types of display: Permanent displays relating to the most important questions within the

    museums range of interests. It is desirable that these permanent displays should be nenewed and brought up to date every one or two years, so that in content and appearance they may make known to the public as soon as possible the latest achievements in agricultural production. The permanent displays form the backbone of the agricultural museums popular educational work.

    Periodic displays demonstrate individual questions of importance in whatever depth is possible, but for a short period of time. They may be connected with some new achievement, discovery or process, or some commemoration.

    Because only a small proportion of the people living in the collecting area of an agricultural museum will be able to visit the central displays, a need arises for travelling displays, which offer smaller versions of the permanent or periodic displays to the agricultural population in the villages and country- side. In these travelling displays it is specially important to maintain a close connexion with the local and everyday aspects. of agriculture, and to work in harmony with other organizations which carry out similar education in agriculture.

    It is desirable to supplement all three types of display with educational talks and lectures, detailed explanations, slide and film projections, and easily comprehensible technical literature.

    The tasks outlined above fall mainly to the general agricultural museums, but with appropriate adjustments may also be undertaken by specialized agricultural museums. Staff working in these should never lose sight of the fact that their institutions form part of the general museum of agriculture and of its present position.