History Unframed
framework for the analysis of local history museums
Who makes history? How are those stories told?
Who gets to be part of it and who doesn't?
How is indigeneity understood in that context?
How does the historical museum inform our understanding of the city?

History is designed …

From the location to the typeface on the labels: This Framework should give you a structured starting point for the critical analysis of your local history museum.
Within each of the nine categories there are four major questions which are compiled with more specific ones and a few possible answers. You don't need an answer for everything but you need to ask. This should lead to a deeper understanding and critical view of how the stories are told. Every category also holds an exemplary analysis of the Potsdam Museum to get a glimpse of how the framework might be applied and what insights it might result in.
The direct environment in which the museum is situated and its historical context are often ignored. It might be perceived as an isolated, centralized, objective entity within the city. This minimizes the relevance of historic collections for the present and future of the city and all its people.
What is the historical context ↓ of the museum?
How is it situated ↓ within the city?
Does the museum contextualize itself ↓?
Does the museum extend ↓ into the city?
Potsdam Museum
Space & Connection
Apart from different means to draw explicit connections between artifacts, the organization and thus spatial positioning impacts the implicit connections the visitors make themselves. Spatial analysis can also hint at which eras, cultures, regions and stories might be over- or underrepresented.
How are artifacts organized ↓?
How are explicit and implicit connections ↓ made?
Are there distinct sections ↓ with boundaries?
Can new connections be made or the structure changed by visitors ↓?
Potsdam Museum
The navigation is integral for how the visitors experience the history of a city. It also directly represents the understanding of history by the museum itself. The usual default narrative is a linear-teleology: a comprehensible, straightforward storytelling. History as being only the simplified predecessor of the present and not inherently complicated, interconnected and interdependent.
How are visitors guided ↓ through the exhibition?
Which symbols and shapes ↓ are used?
Is it possible to deviate ↓ from the navigation?
Which kind of storytelling ↓ does the navigation imply?
Potsdam Museum
The museum on a macro-level only exists because of its components. Those can be mainly artifacts, texts, visualizations: Different forms of knowledge. The staging of every bit of information is relevant to the visitors perception. It could be understood, ignored or not even noticed. The relevance will be weighed differently depending on different means of presentation.
Which lighting ↓ is used for the artifacts?
How is the artifact displayed ↓?
By which means are artifacts emphasized ↓ within a narrative?
How are different visualizations of information ↓ staged?
Potsdam Museum
To understand the context of artifacts the most established way is the use of labels. Those have the possibility to provide a lot of context but can also be overwhelming if overdone. They need to be actively engaged with to be of use. They are basic means of communication and thus the specifics are important.
What is included or excluded ↓ on the labels?
How specific ↓ is the information?
How are the labels designed and positioned ↓?
What is the context ↓ of the labels?
Potsdam Museum
Framing & Representation
Due to the limited space in the museum and attention span of the visitors the stories that are being told have to be selected. The result is mostly a strong emphasis on stories of power. Stories and lives of certain groups of people, may they be indigenous, non-white, female or lower-class are not being told or when hinted at framed very differently from the main narrative. This may be further analysed by the different means this framework provides, e.g. Staging or Space & Connection.
Which ↓ kind of stories are told?
Who ↓ is telling the stories?
Which percentage ↓ of the population is represented?
How are different stories and population groups framed ↓?
Potsdam Museum
Learning and understanding is deeply connected with how we perceive the world. If the museum is trying to represent the world at different points in time than it shouldn't be limited to mostly vision and sometimes audition. There are further senses which can make an exhibition more immersive and also attract a more diverse group of visitors as well.
Which further senses, apart from vision and audition, are addressed ↓?
Are different senses aimed at all age groups ↓?
Are the chosen senses appropriate representations ↓ for the subject?
What is the general experience and feeling ↓ of the visit?
Potsdam Museum
Interactivity is not only for kids. Using all senses and being able to explore and learn from that on your own can be one of the most valuable tools in the museum which apart from some multimedia selection possibilities is not used enough. An active museum helps the visitors to internalize the provided contents better and can enhance critical reflection.
Which elements ↓ are interactive?
Which content ↓ is bound to which action?
Is there a clear objective ↓ or is the interaction open-ended?
How is the interaction integrated ↓ with the rest of the exhibition?
Potsdam Museum
The museum of the city should also be for the city. Everyone should be able to access it and gain an experience and new learnings from it no matter their ability. Apart from physical access, this could mean translations, addressing multiple senses and just different ways of access to knowledge from which anyone can benefit.
Is everything physically accessible ↓?
Which language ↓is used?
What is the entrance fee ↓?
Are artifacts accessible through all senses ↓?
Potsdam Museum
A Project by Tilmann Finner
As part of the class Decolonizing Data Visualization – Visualizing Postcolonies
At the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam
Supervised by Prof. Marian Dörk & Lamin Manneh

The Potsdam Museum has had no direct involvement in this project.
My visits were conducted in June and September of 2022 and thus represent only those time frames.
If you feel that I missed something or represented it wrongly, please contact me.

Fonts in Use:
Basteleur Moonlight by Keussel
Abordage by Ange Degheest & Eugénie Bidaut