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Deaf Museums in Europe: State of the Art

Deaf Museums in Europe: State of the Art

Pragma - NL, 2022. Contactperson: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

One of the outputs of the Deaf Museums project is a report on the 'State of the Art' of Deaf Museums in Europe. 

Liesbeth Pyfers, December 2022

Click here for the .pdf file of the Report.


Deaf Museums in Europe: State of the Art

Author: Liesbeth Pyfers

Published by: Pragma - Hoensbroek, the Netherlands, December 2022

This book is one of the outputs of the Deaf Museums project, www.deafmuseums.eu.

The Deaf  Museums project was partially funded under the Erasmus+ Programme of the EU.    


EN Co Funded by the EU POS 2


"The European Commission's support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein."  Project number: 2020-1-IT02-KA204-079582

Table of Contents

index  Index
  Foreword by Meredith Peruzzi                                                                                                                                        
1. Introduction 

1.1 Deaf Museums?

1.2 Deaf History

1.3 The Deaf Museums Project 

1.4 About this Book                                                                                                                                    

Part 1: Mainstream Museum Views 

  2. Museums 

2.1 What is a Museum?

2.2 A New Definition 

3. Museums Tell Stories 

3.1 Museums Tell Stories 

3.2 Selecting a Story 

3.3 Perspectives 

3.4 Mission Statements 

 4. Location, Location, Location 

4.1 Location 

4.2 A Pop-up Museum 

4.3 A Mobile Museum 

4.4 A Museum in a Box

4.5 A Hybrid Museum 

4.6 A Virtual Museum 

  5. Exhibits 

5.1 Exhibits 

5.2 Collecting and Selecting 

5.3 Ownership 

5.4 Stories and Oral History 

5.5 Copyrights and Data Protection 

5.6 Preserving, Storing and Archiving 

  6. Exhibition Design

6.1 Exhibition Design 

6.2 Display Techniques

6.3 Labels, Panels and Navigation 

6.4 Participatory Design 

6.5 Interactivity and Gamification 

6.6 Immersive Design 

6.7 Accessibility 

6.8 Accessibility and Museum Jobs 

  7. Visitors                                                                                                                               

         71. Visitors

7.2 Young People and Children 

7.3 Market Research 

7.4 Visitor Research, Monitoring 

 8. Marketing 

8.1 Marketing a Museum?

8.2 A Brand Strategy

8.3 Museum Websites

8.4 Social Media 

8.5 Museum Shop, Museum Café 

9. Finances 

9.1 Costs vs. Income 

9.2 Human Capital: Volunteers          

9.3 A Business Plan 94

9.4 Fundraising      

10. Sustainability 

Part 2: Deaf Perspectives 

 11. Deaf Museums in Europe

11.1  The Norwegian Museum of Deaf History and Culture  (Norsk Døvemuseum)

11.2   The Finnish Museum of the Deaf (Kuurojen Museo)  

11.3  Musée d'Histoire et de Culture des Sourds 

11.4  Deaf Museum and Archive UK 

11.5  Deaf Heritage Centre, Ireland 

11.6  Tommaso Pendola Museum 

11.7  Døvehistorisk Selskab 

11.8  Museum of Deaf Education (Museum voor Dovenonderwijs) 

12. Deaf Museums and Their Stories  

12.1 Different Stories 

12.2 Deaf Perspectives 

12.3 The Story of the  Norsk Døvemuseum, NO 

12.4 The Story of  Kuurojen Museo, FI 

12.5 The Story of the Deaf Museum and Archive, UK 

12.6 The Story of the Musée d'Histoire et de Culture des Sourds, FR 

12.7 Hands Up, AT 

13.  Deaf Museums and Their Locations 

13.1 Location: A School for the Deaf  

13.2 Location: a Historic Monument 

13.3 Location: a Deaf Club or Organization  

13.4 A Virtual Deaf Museum 

13.5 Location: a Mainstream Museum 

13.6 Deaf Exhibitions at Mainstream Museums 

13.7 Deaf Museums in Alternative Locations 

 14. The Exhibits at Deaf Museums 

14.1 Deaf Exhibits 

14.2 Deaf Ownership 

14.3 Deaf Stories and Signed History 

14.4  Preserving, Storing and Archiving Deaf Exhibits  

 15. Exhibition Design at Deaf Museums 

15.1 Exhibition Displays at Deaf Museums 

15.2 Immersive experiences?  

15.2 Accessibility and Deaf Museums 

 16. Visitors of Deaf Museums  

16.1 Market Research  

16.2 Number of visitors  

16.3 The visitors of Deaf Museums  

17. The Marketing Strategies of Deaf Museums

17.1 Advertising  

17.2 A Museum Shop?  

17.3 The Brand Strategies of Deaf Museums  

17.4 The Websites of Deaf Museums 

18. The Finances of Deaf Museums 

18.1 The Finances  

 18.2 Income  

18.3 Personnel  

 18.4 Volunteers     

18.5 EU Funding  

19. The Sustainability of Deaf Museums  
 20.  Conclusions and Recommendations  
chatAnnex:  ChatGPT Examples  



  • “One story makes you weak. But as soon as we have one-hundred stories, you will be strong.”
    Chris Cleave in "Little Bee", 2008
  • "After all, we are all of us explorers, and we all have much to bring to each other from our own
    Ladd, P. (2003). Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood.
  • "The Deaf community is international. What binds Deaf people, despite their different national sign languages, is their shared visual communication, history, cultural activities, and the need for a Deaf “space” where people come together."

    from: The Cultural Model of Deafness
  • “Stories of disability are largely absent from museum displays. Where they appear, they often reflect deeply entrenched, negative attitudes towards physical and mental difference. Research reveals that museums don’t simply reflect attitudes; they are active in shaping conversations about difference.
    Projects created with disabled people show that museums hold enormous potential to shape more progressive, accurate and respectful ways of understanding human diversity. Why wouldn’t we take up this opportunity? ”
    Richard Sandell, co-director, Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, University of Leicester
  • "As recently as the 1970s, deaf history did not exist. There were available sketches of various hearing men, primarily teachers, who were credited with bringing knowledge and enlightenment to generations of deaf children, but deaf adults were absent."

    In: Preface to: "Deaf History Unvailed, Interpretations from the New Scholarship". John Vickrey van Cleve, editor
    Publisher: Gallaudet University Press, 1993
  • "The Finnish Museum of the Deaf) was founded by deaf people, and, thus, its task has been to strengthen their identity and historical communality.

    Most of our materials have a connection to the key experiences that generations of deaf people have shared. These are important in understanding the past and keeping the collective memory alive."
    In: TIINA NAUKKARINEN, Finnish Museum of the Deaf: Presenting the Life of Carl Oscar Malm (1826–1863)
  • "Nina Simon has described true inclusion in a museum context as occurring when museums value the diversity in their audience, value those individuals’ potential and contributions, when they actively link those diverse people across differences, and when the organisation reaches out with generosity and curiosity at the core.
    On a practical level this sort of museum practice would see widespread inclusion of people with disabilities in the planning of museum exhibitions, on museum boards and steering committees, and working in curatorial roles."
    In: Corinne Ball: Expressing Ourselves, 2020
  • "Histories have for too long emphasized the controversies over communication methods and the accomplishments of hearing people in the education of deaf students, with inadequate attention paid to those deaf individuals who created communication bridges and distinguished themselves as change agents in their respective field of endeavour."
    from: Harry G. Lang, Bonny Meath-Lang: Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences, 1995
  • "The UN Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community”. This is based on the principle that citizens are not just consumers of cultural capital created by others; we have agency and the right to contribute through culture to the wider good of society."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement
  • "Museums can increase our sense of wellbeing, help us feel proud of where we have come from, and inspire, challenge and stimulate us."
    Source: Museums Change Lives
  • "Museums can increase our sense of wellbeing, help us feel proud of where we have come from, and inspire, challenge and stimulate us."
    Source: https://www.museumsassociation.org/campaigns/museums-change-lives/
  • "Deaf mute, deaf and dumb, hearing impaired – the choices are many and not without consequences. Words have many meanings, they convey attitudes and prejudices and may hurt, even when used in a well-intended context."
    Hanna Mellemsether, in:  Re-presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum, 2013
  • the past can hurt

    From: Walt Disney, The Lion King

  • "And yet, even within a large and, in many ways, traditional organization such as this (Trøndelag Folk Museum, Norway), the museum's encounter with Deaf culture contributed to profound changes and a process, still underway, which challenges our own understanding of what a museum is today, our role in society and our obligations towards more diverse audiences than those we had previously engaged or even recognized."
    Hanna Mellemsether, in:  Re-presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum, 2013
  • "The most significant function of museums is as centres for cultural democracy, where children and adults learn through practical experience that we all have cultural rights. Having the opportunity to create, and to give to others, may be one of our greatest sources of fulfilment. Culture is everywhere and is created by everyone."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement
  • "This (Deaf) Museum is not intended as a casual show, to be seen once and forgotten. Its pretensions are nobler; it has a humanitarian aim. By its solid and tangible evidences, making history memorable and attractive by illustration, it serves a double purpose: to dispel ignorance and prejudice regarding the deaf, and to raise the victims of this prejudice and ignorance to their true level in society."
    The British Deaf Monthly, Vol. VI (p.265) 1897. In: Deaf Museums and Archival Centres, 2006
  • "Deaf people have always had a sense of their history as it was being passed down in stories told by generations of students walking in the hallways of their residential schools and by others who congregated in their clubs, ran associations, attended religious services, and played in sporting events.
    With these activities, the deaf community exhibited hallmarks of agency — an effort to maintain their social, cultural, and political autonomy amid intense pressure to conform as hearing, speaking people."
    BRIAN H. GREENWALD AND JOSEPH J. MURRAY, in: Sign Language Studies, Volume 17, Number 1, Fall 2016
  • "Opening ourselves to the Deaf community, listening to and respecting them as co-creators and experts telling the stories they want told, makes our practice richer, and has ongoing positive effects for the community.
    These embryonic relationships hopefully encourage Deaf people to feel welcome in our space — it’s their space too.
    For both side, communities and museum professionals, while genuinely, openly and truly committing to working together can be time-consuming, it repays any investment many-fold."
    Corinne Ball: Expressing ourselves’: creating a Deaf exhibition", 2020
  • "An important matter for any minority group is that written documents in public archives are often drawn up by the majority group and do not always reflect a minority as it sees itself. Thus, preserving sign language narration is of the utmost importance and a challenge to those working in the field of Deaf history."
    In: TIINA NAUKKARINEN, Finnish Museum of the Deaf: Presenting the Life of Carl Oscar Malm (1826–1863)
  • "It was only during the past decade that recognition of the importance of preserving Deaf history has emerged. In the main, Deaf heritage, culture and folklore has been passed down from generation to generation via the medium of sign language and fingerspelling. (..) It is also vital that the history of Deaf people is made available to future generations, especially Deaf schoolchildren as part of their history lessons."
    A. Murray Holmes,  in: Cruel Legacy, an introduction of Deaf people in history, by A.F. Dimmock, 1993
  • "Access to and participation in culture is a basic human right. Everyone has a right to representation and agency in museums, and communities should have the power to decide how they engage."
    Source: A manifesto for museum learning and engagement
  • "Until the fall semester of 1986, the history department at Gallaudet University had never before offered a course in the history of deaf people.
    In the 122 years, to that point, since the founding of the university, which was specifically intended for the education of deaf peoples, no one had ever taught a course about this very group of people.
    In all of those years the history department had offered courses on a wide range of topics but never deaf history. "
    ENNIS, WILLIAM T., et al. “A Conversation: Looking Back on 25 Years of A Place of Their Own.” Sign Language Studies, vol. 17, no. 1, 2016, pp. 26–41. 
  • "Inclusion is moving from “we tolerate your presence” to “we WANT you here with us”.
    Jillian Enright in The Social Model of Disability, 2021
  • "For many members of the Deaf community their shared history is both personal and social. Deaf people will have gone to the same school, in many cases boarding schools where most of their younger lives will have been spent together, and then met again at their Deaf clubs, Deaf social events, reunions and other more personal events.
    One of the first things a Deaf person will often ask on meeting, before asking your name, is what school or Deaf club you go to. Making this connection is an important part of any greeting, as it will then help an individual to understand what shared history or people in common you may have."
    from: The Cultural Model of Deafness
  • "What has become clear is that museums don’t just function as custodians of the past anymore; instead, they have embraced their responsibility towards the communities of the present: a responsibility to represent them, to speak to them, and to be open to dialogue with them."
    Tim Deakin, August 2021
  • “If you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.”
    Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight
  • "Beyond works of art and objects, museums collect shared heritage, memories and living cultures as well as what we call intangible collectables."
    Source: We are Museums