• Andreas Bjerregaard Laursen
4. term, History, Master (Master Programme)
The meaning of the concept of living history is disputed in Danish museums. Not as much
because there’s a hefty debate on the meaning of said concept, but rather because the debate is
largely absent. Even so, there seems to be an intuitive meaning to the concept of living history,
as it can be referenced and used in both professional and public contexts and communicate
some sense of what is to be expected. To further explore the meaning, the concept must be
investigated, which in this case happened through the perspective of museum professionals.
When turning to the literature on the subject, the meaning of living history varies greatly in
different situations, while it often connotes historical communication involving actors,
costumes, and sensory experiences. An issue with this interpretation, is that living history in
more recent years also has come to denote both digital communication and various forms of
immaterial communication tools, and the rhetoric of museum guides.

I set up an interview with three experts in living history from Nationalmuseet (The National
Museum, Copenhagen), Den Gamle By (The Old Village Museum, Aarhus), and Moesgaard
Museum (Aarhus) respectively, whom I wanted to describe their conceptualization of living
history, and how they practice it in their day-to-day work. The interview was constructed with
a set of questions investigating the subjective meaning of living history for each museum
professional, and was supplemented by fields studies at each museum, to include the bodily
experience in my research.

Analysing what living history means to the professionals, instantly turned out to be more than
actors and costumes. It was revealed that a long set of subjective experiences with the visitor
appears to be the goal of practicing living history, and therefore living history can be expressed
in other forms than traditionally described. All the professionals expressed an emphasis on ‘the
living human’, as a way of describing the humane aspect of their communication; albeit this
‘living human’ isn’t necessarily a physical person. It was discovered that the living human can
be expressed through human expression in other medias. A medium as little physical as
podcasting was mentioned as a candidate for living history. In contrast, the absence of human expression was said to ruin living history, depriving it of its ability to connect with the museum

Living history is used in a wide array of situations, but also has limitations. If a sensory
experience is wanted, it can be difficult to include museum articles that are delicate and fragile.
Thematic restrictions can include traumatic events, e.g. war and disasters, because a well executed effort to induce the visitor with empathy, puts them at risk of experiencing mild
trauma themselves. Finally, some forms of living history in museums can prove quite expensive,
and physical forms has capacity restrictions.

We can conclude from the interviews with professionals that living history is not just a form or
method of communication, but an expression of an experience that can be had from a spectrum
of methods. It’s the conceptualisation of an emotional, empathetic and subjective phenomena,
which can be hard to quantify exactly because of its subjective nature. However, the fact that
living history is not constricted to the material form, also means that it can be implemented as
a philosophy of communication in already-existing exhibits and services, which could help
museums to connect with visitors in a new way in areas that lack public appeal.
Publication date2020
Number of pages107
External collaboratorNationalmuseet
no name vbn@aub.aau.dk
Den Gamle By Museum
no name vbn@aub.aau.dk
Moesgaard Museum
no name vbn@aub.aau.dk


ID: 343691466