The Blending of Place and Voice in Ecomuseums: Educating Communities and Visitors in the New Museum

Lesley Graybeal


The concept of the traditional museum as a temple of knowledge has been increasingly challenged with the development of new museum forms. This paper examines the history and applications in the Americas of one such model, the ecomuseum, which arose in the late 1900s in European industrial towns as a way for local communities to navigate their heritage and changing way of life in a post-industrial era.  Ecomuseums are grassroots institutions whose goal is to encompass the entirety of the community’s political and economic—as well as historical and cultural—reality to constitute the museum, and thus rarely confine themselves to a single museum building. Ecomuseums have come to fulfill a number of roles as educational institutions, historic preservation centers, and seats of community activism, giving community members a voice in self-representation and bridging the past, present, and future.  The ecomuseum, in locally negotiating and redefining even the physical parameters of the museum, presents a unique model for democratic heritage preservation and education. While this specific model has been applied to a limited extent outside of Europe, the ecomuseum and other similar manifestations of new museology—which have emerged in Central, North, and South America—have potential for shaping culture democratically within indigenous and ethnic communities and offering valuable awareness of alternative histories to visitors.


Ecomuseums; Heritage Preservation; Democratic Education