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How we built our collection

By Elke Pluijmen, Collections Manager January 2011 - April 2016

Writing in my mother tongue, which is 'Nederlands', is easier, but as the topic of this article is my work as coordinator for collection management for the House of European History, I decided to write in English. The international museum world communicates mostly in English. Immediately I add that thinking about (museum) collections and collecting is of course also well developed in non-Anglo-Saxon regions. To give you an example, I just bought a book on contemporary collecting from the south of France with which you could kill your roommate. But English is my second language. Or third language, if you count my regional 'Plat', a dialect of Dutch, as my first language.

So, not verzamelen, verzamelaar, verzameling, but collecting, collector, collections are the topics I deal with.

But imagine the happiness for me of coming to work on a museum project where there was no collection. That was in January 2011. Soon it turned out that a collection was going to have to be assembled. It was one of the tasks of the new team that was going to build the House of European History.

And of course rightly so, because how to deal with history, memory and heritage without objects?

The team worked in the first year on issues such as the museum's mission, vision, objectives and the general narrative. In the second year we started to evident objects via the internet, the phone and also visit museums, archives, galleries and libraries.

Then our curators explored specific location of interest, that could uncover unknown treasures or unexpected proofs that could contextualize the story of European integration, which is embedded in European History since antiquity. This story is the backbone of our narrative.

Our collection management system now includes nearly 3000 assets - objects, audio visuals, pictures, movies- and documentation for future use, not only for the permanent exhibition, but also for temporary and travelling exhibitions, events, educational programmes and website.

Overall, the most interesting finds are not on the internet, but in small museums and storage facilities on the peripheries of Europe. And yes, sometimes you find in a museum far away exactly what you were looking for, but in better cases, your colleague shows you an object that is more fitting than the one you selected, sitting in the filing cabinet behind your desk!