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Kulturportal Lund

Guide to historical Lund and its cultural heritage

Kulturen – The Museum of Cultural History in Lund

   Buildings | History


It started at Midsummer 1882, when some students in Lund decided to found the Association for the Cultural History of Southern Sweden. The central figure in this group of enthusiasts, whose first interest was rural dialects, was Georg J:son Karlin, the son of a clergyman from Huaröd, in the middle of Skåne (Scania). In the subsequent half-century he was to be the driving force behind the biggest Swedish open-air museum after Skansen in Stockholm. Those who founded the association were primarily motivated by a desire to rescue the cultural heritage, which was endangered by the rapidly growing urbanization and industrialization. But Kulturen was not merely made into a southern copy of Stockholm´s Nordic Museum (which then included Skansen). The full name, the Museum of Cultural History in Lund, which the museum bore from right from the start, encapsulated broader ambitions than just collecting Scandinavian folk culture.

In the autumn of the same year, 1882, there was an exhibition in Lund of peasant objects collected during the summer, but it was not until 1892 that a permanent museum was opened. This was in what is today called the Northern Area, which had been purchased in 1890. The well-known architect Henrik Sjöström worked on the plans for the museum. 

Kulturen Sjostrom

Kulturen. Sketch by Henrik Sjöström 1891

The museum grounds were expanded in 1898, 1907, and 1925. In 1927 the plot south of Adelgatan was bought, and in 1929 Kulturen was able to open the Southern Area with the White House and the Folk Culture Building.

A museum of world culture

Kulturen was to follow a different course from the Nordic Museum; at an early stage it looked beyond Scandinavia, with the ambition of capturing the totality of world culture and comparing different cultures on the material and spiritual level. In 1918 Karlin wrote: ”The leading principle for the Museum of Cultural History […] is the aspiration for universality, that is, in principle nothing of all that has built up human culture by means of spirit and hand in combination should be excluded from the collections.” This ambition had the consequence that in several important fields Kulturen acquired specialist collections of great significance by both national and international standards. 

”Kulturen has almost everything” was a slogan coined in the 1970s. There is some truth in the statement, and the museum still asserts the principle that nothing human is alien to it. The collections span huge geographical, chronological, and social distances. In our time the global perspective has become even more important than it was in Karlin’s.

An energetic visionary

Karlin was a visionary innovator, comparable to Artur Hazelius, who opened his creation Skansen in 1891, but also radically different in his museum concept. Kulturen was arranged according to the pavilion system, with the buildings as thematic frameworks for the exhibitions. The overall theme chosen for the presentation of Swedish cultural history was the old society of the four estates: nobles, clerics, burghers, and peasants. That is why the Nobleman’s House, Bosebo Church, the Burgher’s House and the Blekinge Farm-house were part of the original concept.

It had started with an interest in the peasant culture, but when the museum was opened in 1892, this thematic restriction had already been burst. 

Kulturen bonad

The town garden into which the museum moved was reshaped but it served as the framework for the museum park with the settings crested around the different buildings.

With the movement” of the Lembke House (the Burgher’s House) from Malmö in 1891, Kulturen took a pioneering initiative. It was the first time that a town house had been moved into a museum (although only parts of the original building were actually moved). Even the idea of having a whole town neighbourhood to depict the development of the burgher environment may have been a path-breaking motion. “The Town Block” was built up in stages between 1907 and 1930. The street was deliberately formed as a generalization of the concept of the town. The museum management thought on as bold and grand a scale as the resources permitted.

Archaeology in Lund

When the Borough of Lund started building its first modern sewer system in 1890, Karlin realized the wealth of knowledge that lay in the medieval deposits. He began collecting finds from the excavations, thereby starting the archaeological work that is Kulturen’s oldest still active pursuit, having been continued without interruption since then, as well as being the oldest continuous Swedish archaeology in one and the same medieval town. In this respect too, Karlin was responsible for a pioneering venture. The museum now has well over a million objects from twelve decades of archaeological excavations. 

Östarp – an epoch-making museum idea

Right from the start the ambition was to acquire a Scanian farm for the museum. Lack of finance and space, however, proved an obstacle. At the start of the 1920s the museum had the opportunity to buy the farm of Östarp no. 1, about 30 kilometers south-east of Lund. In 1924 the Östarp site was opened to the public. Karlin was fully aware that buildings which are moved are torn from their historical context and thereby lose something of their value. With Östarp the ambition was to create a living museum in the true sense of the word, in a living cultural landscape (although the term did not yet exist). Once again Kulturen took the lead in giving museums of cultural history a new orientation.

Kulturen’s yearbook – part of the work of modernization

In 1933 Karlin handed over the helm, at the age of 75. His successor was Sven T Kjellberg. It was now important to stabilize the museum’s economy. The main instrument in this was the yearbook, which first appeared in 1935. This was responsible for the dramatic growth in in the number of members in the association, which gave new finance opportunities. The whole museum underwent a much-needed modernization. The crowning glory was the construction of the new Medieval Hall (1957) and Textile Hall (1961). Planning for these had begun in 1938, but had to be interrupted due to the Second World War. During the war Kulturen was partly in hibernation, as many of the collections were evacuated. It was not until 1945 that the museum was able to make a fresh start, rearranging its exhibitions.  


The 1960s saw a reorientation as regards the educational role of the museum. Kulturen was placed at the disposal of the schools, and in 1967 a museum lecturer was employed as head of a new educational department. 

A ”branch” of the museum was established when the Old Grocery Shop on the corner of Sankt Annegatan and Tomegapsgatan was opened in 1963.

Several new and important exhibitions opened 1960-1970.

In 1987 Kulturen opened yet another branch in Kattesund, with the inauguration of the museum built around the foundations of the medieval Drotten Church. This represents the results of several decades of archaeological investigations south-west of Stortorget.

When Kulturen in 1988 opened its new central store an old problem was at last solved. For the first time in its history, the museum now had a rational, climate-controlled building for the long-term preservation of its treasures and cultural history.

In 1988-89 a completely new restaurant was built beside the White House.

A large-scale rebuilding of The White House took place in 1994-95, and resulted in a modern auditorium and a completely new entrance for the visitors.

After several years of work two big and very important exhibitions;  The Modernism. A New Art. A New World and Metropolis. Lund in the Middle Ages were inaugurated in 1998 and 1999.

Kulturen flygbild

Airphoto of the museum area.

Text: Claes Wahlöö

  Senast uppdaterad 20 August, 2019 av Kristoffer Lindblad
  Publicerad 5 October, 2015 av Ingrid André