Beyond Digital Collecting – Participatory Experiments in the House of Austrian History’s Online Museum

By Stefan Benedik

When in 2018, the House of Austrian History opened, this first federal museum dedicated to the country’s more recent past didn’t only open the doors of the former imperial palace. It also opened an online platform creating an open space where the public and professionals negotiate Austrian contemporary history. Simultaneously, it offers an understanding of the museum itself as a process rather than a finished institution and invites to critically reflect about a museum’s mission, aim and content. Therefore, it brings together online experiments that are more playful with curated and annotated presentations of selected objects in online exhibitions. These constantly growing presentations juxtapose and combine different approaches and topics so as to create new perspectives on history.


Most importantly, the online museum offers modules which work in both the virtual and the material realm and offers a link between the two. These installations provide with similar options for interaction and content regardless of scale and whether it is accessed via a personal device or experienced as a large-scale projection inside the museum building itself. Additionally, artistic installations (for instance in printed postcards) challenge the boundary between the virtual and the material ( Additionally, the online museum also created interventions in public space (especially the historically charged Heldenplatz in Vienna, on which Adolf Hitler proclaimed the “Anschluss”, the inclusion of Austria into the German Reich, on


The House of Austrian History’s web platform provides with engaging and critical perspectives on (national) history. The examples and methods chosen allow to reflect on rather than reiterate teleological, “classical” forms of museological representation and present narratives without restricting them to a specific medial quality or three-dimensional objects in general (although these are also represented).


Theoretical approaches to memory culture play a central role in that context as the online museum is the institution’s main tool to experiment with curatory approaches and create spaces for intervention beyond simple concepts of citizen science ( In that participatory and democratic space, multiple options for users to extend or change the museum’s narratives (both offline and online) are examined. The museum combines public responses and professional supervision: bottom-up-participation allows to make transparent processes of how memory is negotiated. When visitors contribute their own objects (mainly photos or videos), the individualised character of memory narratives is emphasized and everything is exhibited exactly the way it was contributed, but there is the option of editorial remarks by curators (visible as different category).


The museum is meant to be flexible and dynamic: offered content and modules can be temporary or permanent, thereby creating possibilities to experiment, explore, and endeavour but also fail (regarding content and tech). Given that the online platform is designed to create an interface, connecting the digital and material realm, the museum itself and its exhibitions are constantly re-developed and the presented narrative is changing, even after they have opened.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 764859.