'Musealising European History': Final Maastricht Monnet Lecture of the year by Taja Vovk van Gaal

On May 26th, CERiM had the pleasure of welcoming Taja Vovk van Gaal, who is heading the team that prepares the exhibitions and the structure of the House of European History (HEH). She came to share her experience on the process of creating the museum, which is due to open in the Eastman building in Brussels on November 19th 2016 and will be free of entrance fee. The idea for a house of European History was officially launched by Professor Pöttering and Taja Vovk van Gaal joined the project in 2010 as the leader of the team of curators.

Although there are many national history museums that cover fragments of European integration, a museum truly dedicated to the history of European integration, from the perspectives of Western, Central and Eastern European countries, is unique. As the speaker explained, this museum will not look into national histories of EU member states but rather seeks to “distil the processes and events in EU history that fuelled integration.” As the concept “Europe” in itself already is controversial, the first part of the museum will be dedicated to defining Europe, not only geographically, but also culturally, politically and historically.

The museum seeks to open a discussion on choices of what European history might be, which, according to Vovk van Gaal, is of high importance today: “It will help us find what we, Europeans, share, but also what divides us.” To the question why Europeans need this museum at this time more than ever, she replied by arguing that “we see quite similar factors today as those that led to the problems in Yugoslavia in the past.” Looking back at history will remind Europeans that Europe has not always been as peaceful as it is today, and this might help prevent future violence.

As is tradition for Maastricht Monnet lectures, there was time for attendees – students and UM staff – to engage with the speaker in a stimulating discussion. One of the questions concerned the lack of involvement of citizens in the process of creating the museum. While Vovk van Gaal agreed with this critique and stated that it would be good to have more input from citizens in the process, she recognised the difficulty of moving forward and finding a way of integrating the myriad of voices and interests. Moreover, the process of decision-making had already been set by the European Parliament when she joined the project.

All in all, the evening presented a great opportunity for an interesting dialogue between the expert and the attendees and left everyone curious and excited to visit the new museum

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