Open Air Museums

An Écomusée (ecomuseum) is a cultural institution allowing the research, presentation, conservation and enhancement of a set of natural and cultural assets in a territory, representative of an environment and the lifestyles associated with it. Its role is to enhance the tangible (tools, housing, etc.) and intangible (know-how, trades, etc.) heritage of a territory and a population.

The whole story starts in 1971, when the desire to renew the museum landscape and redefine its relationship with the public culminated in a new concept. The French museologists Georges-Henri Rivière and Hugues de Varine developed the original definition which was adopted in 1971 during the Ninth Conference of the International Council of Museums.

Musée éclaté, interdisciplinaire, démontrant l’homme dans le temps et dans l’espace, dans son environnement naturel et culturel, invitant la totalité d’une population à participer à son propre développement par divers moyens d’expression basés essentiellement sur la réalité des sites, des édifices, des objets, choses réelles plus parlantes que les mots ou les images qui envahissent notre vie.
A multi-faceted, interdisciplinary museum, demonstrating man in time and space, in his natural and cultural environment, inviting the entire population to participate in his own development through various means of expression based essentially on the reality of sites, buildings and objects, real things that speak louder than the words and images that invade our lives.

It shows cultural, economic, social and financial influences on the current situation. Another basic idea is that it is operated jointly by a public authority and a local population. It's a museum which is not restricted to a library, an exhibition in display cases and stuffed animals. It was the idea to extend the ancient concept of such an antiquated institution by hands on, dynamic reality, open air museums with people in old clothes, blacksmithing presentations and much more. The concept boomed, because museums generally boomed in the 1980s, continually increasing numbers of visitors. For modern interactive displays it was too early, the technology did not exist.

The term was adopted in some countries, but not in all. Many countries had a problem with the term Écomusée, because the prefix Eco- became quite popular in the late 1980s, and it basically means to avoid nature destruction by reducing consumption and introducing recycling. That's something completely different. Especially as there are many industrial Écomusée in France, which show mining communities or heavy industry. Of course, this was an important part of the 19th and much of the 20th century. It had a great influence on people, but it has no connection to the term ECO, ecology, which means the protection of the natural biosphere.

And this is unchanged until today, the Wikipedia page for "Écomusée" has 18 different languages, but English is not one of them. In other words, the term never made it into international terminology. Other countries use the term Open Air Museum, which is not exactly the same, but very similar. Even the U.S.A. have similar sites, where historic buildings, western forts or museum villages are enhanced by the reenactment of daily live, important events or battles. Nevertheless, the page lists 127 Écomusée in France and 21 Écomusée in all other European countries together. The obvious reason why this topic is France-specific.