Located in Stockholm, Sweden, the Swedish History Museum is one of the country’s largest public museums, showcasing a variety of artifacts spanning the nation’s history from the Mesolithic period 10,000 years ago through the present day. The basis of what would become the Swedish History Museum’s collections was formed out of the private art collections of 16th-century Swedish King Gustav Vasa, which were displayed at his royal residence, Gripsholm Castle.
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Throughout Vasa’s reign, his art collection expanded to include a large number of notable acquisitions, including personal gifts from dignitaries and spoils of war from numerous military conquests. The collection was passed down through several more Swedish kings following Vasa, and though a portion of the collection was lost during a fire while the collection was on display at the Tre Kronor castle, the remaining works of art were transferred to the care of the Swedish central government following the 1792 death of King Gustaf III. Later that year, the Swedish government opened the Royal Museum as a public exhibition at Stockholm Palace, one of the first public museums of its kind opened anywhere in the world.
Throughout the mid-19th century, the museum collection was extended to several additional locations, with historians still debating whether its 1847 move to Skeppsbron’s Ridderstolp House or its 1866 transfer to the Nationalmuseum constituted the founding of the modern-day Swedish History Museum. Throughout the 1870s, the collection became too small for any of its locations, and the idea for a new larger museum facility were proposed to the Swedish government in 1876, though no consensus was agreed upon at that time for further plans. Debate about the fate of the museum continued into the 20th century until 1923, when Sigurd Curman was appointed as the head of the Swedish National Heritage Board. Through Curman’s spearheading, funding was granted for the construction of a number of government buildings to stimulate economic growth, including the creation of a new location for the History Museum. The new museum was officially opened to the public in April of 1943.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
Today, the Swedish History Museum is owned and operated as a government agency of the nation of Sweden, under the supervision of the Statens historiska museer, or National Historical Museums, board. As one of the country’s five ansvarsmuseum, or “museums with responsibilities,” it serves as a liaison between the Swedish community and other government agency museums, including its fellow SHMM museums the Royal Coin Cabinet, the Swedish Archaeology Commission, and the Tumba Papermill Museum. As one of the largest public museums in Sweden, it receives tens of thousands of annual visitors to its four-building campus, which was given a coordinated design by sculptor Bror Marklund in 1952 after winning a national design contest.
The museum’s collections hold more than 10 million artifacts, with items dating back over 10,000 years to the Mesolithic period and spanning through the nation’s present-day history. While most items have been excavated as part of archaeological endeavors within the country’s borders, many items are of international origin due to historical military conflict, commerce, and immigration. Sweden’s early history is explored in a Prehistories exhibition, which focuses on the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages, while a Gold Room exhibit, designed in 1994 by architect Leif Blomberg, showcases fine gold and silver items from the Migration Period and Viking Age. The museum’s Meet the Vikings exhibit is one of the largest Viking-focused exhibits in the world, focusing on the explorations and commerce of Nordic cultures between 800 and 1050.
The country’s Medieval period is covered in three exhibits, including the Medieval Massacre exhibit, which chronicles the 1361 Battle of Gotland. Exhibit areas also cover Medieval Art and the church music of early Christian churches in the area during the period. Recent history is showcased in the History of Sweden exhibit, chronicling the country’s history from the 11th century through the present day, while 100% Fight: The History of Sweden and History Unfolds focus on current issues of civil rights and historical narrative recounting.
Ongoing Programs and Education
In addition to standard visitor admission, a variety of guided tour opportunities are available for individuals and small groups, emphasizing behind-the-scenes aspects of museum curation and archival collection care. Curriculum-incorporated field trip opportunities for primary and secondary school students are offered, along with a variety of public workshops and events for families held on school holidays. Several museum exhibits are available for touring to museums and event venues through the world, including the Nordic-focused “We Call Them Vikings” exhibit. A variety of public special event programming is also offered throughout the year, including concerts, lectures, theme weekends, and a summer Outdoor Viking Games event.
Narvavägen 13–17, 114 84 Stockholm, Phone: +08-51-95-56-00