Objects as identity markers – Ways of mediating the past in a South Sámi and Norse borderland

Grete Swensen


Museums have several means of communicating with their audiences. The problems discussed here concern how local museums interact with their audience when the past they want to portray is multiple, complex and sometimes disputed. It is based on an analysis of three exhibitions in local museums situated in a region where archaeological findings indicate that the South Sámi have been present since the Late Neolithic and the Bronze Age. It highlights the various ways in which the pluralistic past in the region is being portrayed by asking whether its history appears as neutralized, i.e. transmitted in passive impartial terms, or is exoticized, repressed or mediated through other images. The one common identity marker the three exhibitions share, although portrayed in different ways and with different effects, is the gåetie, a turf hut in common use in the South Sámi region. A tendency to neutralize the multiple and complex past in the South Sámi region takes place, either by operating in a form of ‘timeless past‘ or by referring to a shared ‘far away past‘ as fishers and hunters. By barely mentioning cultural encounters, the South Sámi and the Norse are primarily presented as ethnic groups who have lived isolated and independent of each other.

Key words: disputed heritage; identity markers; South Sámi; perceptions of the past; museum exhibitions

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.29311/mas.v15i2.834

Copyright (c) 2017 Grete Swensen

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360