The Royal Museums of Art and History: the History of its Buildings and its Collections based on the Museum’s Archives

Project FED-tWIN
FED-tWIN is a federal research program of the Federal Public Service Science Policy Programming Service (BELSPO) with the aim of stimulating sustainable cooperation between ten federal science institutions and Belgian Universities through the funding of joint research profiles.


Summary of the project
Leaving aside a handful of recent scientific articles, the only general publication on the history of the Royal Museums of Art and History (RMAH), its buildings and the development of its collections is a Liber Memorialis, published in 1985 on the occasion of the museum’s 150th anniversary. While the latter publication was aimed at a general public, no other encompassing scientific and critical study on the history of the RMAH that attempts at tracing this history against the background of broader (inter)-national socio-political and cultural developments, has so far not been published, despite the fact that vast amounts of unstudied documentation are looming in the museum’s institutional archives.

This proposal therefore focusses on these archives of which the vast majority has never been properly organised, inventoried and described. Because of this, these archives have never been exploited at their full potential although they are inextricably bound to the history of the RMAH, its different buildings and collections.

In collaboration with the archivist of the RMAH, the FED-tWIN researcher will work on closing this knowledge gap by eliminating the enormous backlog in archival description, (online) access and digitisation of the RMAH institutional archives with the specific aim to make these archives available to the general public but also for further scientific research. Indeed, these archives are a vital source of documentation for any serious research on the museum’s past. Following the reorganisation of these archives, several research questions will be addressed that ultimately will result in a new critical and scientific study on the history of the RMAH. Special attention will be devoted to the various historical buildings of the different museums that form the RMAH but also to the different actors that were responsible for the development of its collections.

RMARCH proposes a multi-disciplinary and cross-institutional approach that will built on the expertise of past and current research projects in both the RMAH and the University of Antwerp (UAntwerpen). The research opportunities that will emerge from opening up this important institutional archive will not only allow the FED-tWIN researcher with his/her focus and profile in archival studies and architectural history to rewrite the history of the RMAH but also to play a crucial role in connecting, moderating and advancing them into the broader field of heritage studies. These are ranging from archival and (art and architectural) historical research to conservation and restoration but also in new research fields such as digital humanities and the development of digital documentation, data visualisation and imaging technologies. In this respect, the new BA training program, resulting from a new synergy between the disciplines Heritage Studies and Conservation-Restoration of the Faculty of Design Sciences of the UAntwerpen also offers a unique opportunity to deeply embed this project into academic education and training and in cooperation with the two research groups Henry van der Velde and Heritage & Sustainability.

RMAH and Universiteit Antwerpen