by Alan Kirwan
Photo credits: Atelier d'architecture Chaix & Morel et associés © Eddie Young / AACMA-JSWD
A transnational view on European history
In late 2016 a new museum will open in Brussels, Belgium. It is a museum like no other on many fronts. In a multi-layered narrative over six floors it will allow visitors to explore some of the major historical events that have affected and shaped the continent of Europe over past centuries and continue to do so today via their legacies. Eschewing individual national stories, the House of European History, a project of the European Parliament, deliberately takes an overarching, trans-national approach to seminal political, economic, social and cultural phenomena.
The museum as a learning environment
The museum, although based in Brussels, has a remit to reach and speak to a diverse range of audiences across Europe and beyond. With this in mind it is useful to imagine the offer of the museum as consisting of a series of concentric circles, radiating out from its location in Parc Leopold in the centre of Brussels to learners across the continent through its physical and online presence.
The ambitious scope of the museum’s learning agenda is clearly stated within the mission statement of its Learning Strategy:
Learning is at the heart of the House of European History and this will be demonstrated across all public facing activities including the permanent, temporary and travelling exhibitions, and events programming. Learning will be open and accessible to all, offering innovative programmes related to the narratives and key themes of the museum. While the House is situated in Brussels, its remit is to reach a wider European and world audience.
Different ways to learning – accessible in 24 languages
One of these core audiences are adult learners. In recognition of the diverse nature and divergent needs of adult learners, the House of European History’s learning team has implemented a methodology of ‘layered interpretation’ so that those visiting the museum in person or utilising its online resources can access information appropriate to their levels of knowledge and interest.
For example, visitors to the museum in Brussels will all have access to state of the art multimedia tablets in 24 languages that will guide them through the exhibition spaces and content. Not only will the user have the option of exploring the collections in either aural or textual form but the information itself is structured organisationally in a manner which facilitates both ‘surface’ or ‘deep’ learning. This information is further enhanced by visual elements including video, photographs, graphics and maps. Within the exhibition spaces themselves, adult learners will encounter numerous audio-visual terminals and interactive touchscreens, once again in 24 languages.
For those learners who choose not to use a tablet device while visiting, the museum is making available concise introductory brochures that offer summative overviews of key themes and storylines in addition to more in-depth guidebooks. A series of publications connected to the themes represented at the House of European History are scheduled in the immediate months after the official opening targeting both general and academic interest.
The museum is also aware that adult visits to museums are increasingly done as part of larger inter-generational groups, notably families. With this in mind, the House of European History has designed creative and engaging ‘Discovery Spaces’ and a ‘Family Trail’ that encourage discussion and debate between young and old on all floors of the museum.
A debate space for all
An extensive annual events programme will be available for adult learners consisting of guided tours, guest talks, conferences and workshops, courses and practical sessions. Many of these events will take place on-line with simultaneous web link-ups between museums, cultural organisations and other partner institutes across Europe and further afield. The House of European History is equally very conscious of its local environment and the fact that it is part of an immediate cultural and museum eco-system within Brussels and Belgium in general. It will therefore work in close co-operation with local museums and cultural organisations in the delivery of adult education. This delivery will extend to the House of European History inter-connecting with community providers of adult learning and facilitating in-depth and enriched learning opportunities through access to the museum and its collections, making it truly a learning resource and debate space for all.
Dr Alan Kirwan is the Learning Co-ordinator for the House of European History, a project of the European Parliament