Conference on the New Permanent Exhibitions of the Museum of Ethnography

Budapest, 16-18 November 2020

In the near future, the Museum of Ethnography will be moving to a new building, its relocation carrying with it an opportunity for both physical, and conceptual renewal. The permanent exhibition that is to mark this process represents a milestone not only in the life of the institution, but also in the history of Hungarian ethnographic museology as a whole and, indeed, the history of Hungarian ethnography itself. Though preparations for the move have been underway for years, it is on the occasion of this conference that the concept is to make its true public debut and undergo the scrutiny of the domestic and international professional communities. We trust that despite the present unusual circumstances, a way will be found to move forward with the event that will make possible.

The new exhibition involves division into three basic sections: a Ceramics Space, a Youth Exhibition, and a Permanent Collection Exhibition, all connected by their emphasis on the museum’s physical collection, simultaneously presenting historical and contemporary artefacts from both the Hungarian, and international holdings.

Ceramics Space

The open “Ceramics Space” will offer a glimpse of the quantitative dimensions of the museum’s collection, while also touching on a variety of social issues, illuminated by the artefacts on display from perspectives unlike the ones in which visitors are accustomed to seeing them in. The several thousand objects selected to feature in what is essentially a visible storage area will come from both the Hungarian and international collections, the only attribute holding them together being the fired clay of which they are made. In all other respects – colour, size, age, technique, and use – the display is to be extraordinarily diverse.

Youth Exhibition

The Children’s Exhibition aims to examine the day-to-day lives of – and the similarities and differences between – the humans that populate and run our world, natural and supernatural beings, and all manner of objects and things. Each topic is to be introduced using general activities such as sleeping, eating, work, play, storytelling, and music. Through stories of people and objects, visitors will explore the great variety of cultural responses to these basic needs provided in different parts of the world by humans past, present, and future and learn why and how ethnography museums have sought to document them. The exhibition places all the tools of the museum environment into the service of hands-on, experiential learning, selecting the best methods for engendering receptiveness and cultivating familiarity available with respect to the age groups in question.

Permanent Collection Exhibition

Comprising several thousand artefacts, the Permanent Collection Exhibition will seek to make sense of the Museum of Ethnography’s extensive collection, telling stories of the relationships between objects and people, places and life-worlds, scientists and the their areas of study, collectors and museums. The Permanent Collection Exhibition will ask questions: What is a museum? How can its holdings be “read”? How were they assembled over time to form a collection – a museum? How can a historic collection be viewed with new eyes and displayed so as to make it exciting?

Current plans include a modular structure in which various topics may each be interpreted independently, while still connecting to the others in a number of different ways.

MS/M and Museum is being born will offer an introduction to the collection as a whole, the concept of an artefact, the period in which the museum was born, and the exhibitions that surrounded the institution’s formation.

Object Biographies and In the Field will each examine an issue related to research methodology, the first having to do with the relationships between humans and objects, and the second with the challenges, opportunities, and range of outcomes associated with encounters between researchers and the people of Hungarian, European, and extra-European cultures.

Hungarian Prehistories and Folk Art will represent important lines of research and scientific approaches that are easily associated with the field of ethnography.

Art and Heritage are conceptual buzzwords risen to prominence in the past few decades that evaluate museum holdings – i.e. institutional heritage – from the vantage point of the present.

The exhibition will feature a separate ZOOM area in which, in lieu of the more standard intellectual approach, objects will be displayed in a high-visibility, interactive manner.


On the first day of the conference, presenters will be asked to debate the full exhibition concept, while attendees familiarise themselves with the building architectural and exhibition design concepts and learn about the experiences other countries have had with recently developed, comprehensive ethnographic/anthropological exhibitions.  On the second and third days, debate will centre on individual exhibition units.  Each topical area will be introduced by a single curator, followed by two critical responses.  All presenters and responders will be noted Hungarian and international professionals, ethnographers, historians, museologists, and curators.

Now is the time to talk, to discuss the concept as it currently stands.

We look forward to your participation!