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Opening the doors to hold the fort: museums and instrumental cultural policy in 19
century Britain and Germany
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Dr Susannah Eckersley
Museum History Journal
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Ideas such as democracy, socialism, and nationalism began to gain wide currency in industrializing countries during the 19th century, and they threatened to revolutionize the social and political fabric. This paper argues that faced with this prospect, ruling elites in Germany and Britain used museums to try and pacify the masses and maintain the status quo. As a result, both countries experienced a "museum boom" over the period, although they used culture in different ways in their attempts to shape public opinion. This can be considered to be a precursor to modern and contemporary instrumental cultural policies. In Britain the focus was primarily on how museums could educate the population — not only about culture, but also in terms of how citizens should behave. In contrast, in Germany the key influences were the issue of national identity and the competition between many of the German states for the unofficial role of "cultural leader", in the knowledge that the victor would probably assume a dominant position once unification occurred.
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