Challenging Populist Truth-Making in Europe (CHAPTER):
The Role of Museums in a Digital 'Post-Truth' European Society

The project “Challenging Populist Truth-Making in Europe: The Role of Museums in a Digital ‘Post-Truth’ European Society (CHAPTER)”, funded by the VolkswagenStiftung, will develop approaches and best practice examples to support museums in challenging the growing influence of populist discourse in Europe through digital innovation. The project is a collaboration of researchers in Berlin (project leaders: Christoph Bareither and Sharon Macdonald), London (Haidy Geismar) and Krakow (Roma Sendyka) and museums in the respective regions, supported through a review board with members from other European countries.

In the first phase, the project team will study the impact of populist truth-making on museums and their visitors in Germany, the UK and Poland, bringing together an explorative interview study with in-depth ethnographic research within museums’ physical and digital spaces. Here the research interest focusses on the affective dimension of populist debates, asking how “post-truth” and “fake news” constitute practices of “emotional truth-making” that affect museums both explicitly or implicitly. While the researchers will focus mainly on the perspective of museum professionals and stakeholders in the first year, they will conduct ethnographic visitor research in the second, asking for how visitors experience the “affective contact zones” of museums in relation to post-truth practices and emotional truth-making. In the second phase, starting in year three, the project will build upon the research findings in order to develop and implement a museum app (for smartphones and tablets) in cooperation with our project partner Fluxguide (Vienna) and three partner museums in Germany, Poland and the UK. The purpose of this app is to challenge young visitors (18-21 years) to critically engage in practices of populist truth-making. Our goal is not only to co-develop and implement this app, but to accompany, analyze and evaluate its use in order to gain critical knowledge about the potential of digital media in museum contexts on a much broader level. Thus, the key aim of the project is to bring together ethnographic research and digital innovation in order to develop best practices that will support museums and other cultural institutions to challenge populist debates and to foster a democratic public discourse within Europe.

The research findings of the project will be published through collaboratively written open access papers in high-ranking peer-reviewed journals, as well as through the three PhD’s individual dissertations and the habilitation of the postdoc researcher. Based upon these findings, the final project results will be summarized in an elaborate best practice portfolio, including an audio-visual documentation of the project, a policy paper and a set of principles for the effective as well as meaningful design of digital museum apps that foster the critical citizenship skills of young visitors. This way, the project will make a long-lasting contribution to the endeavor of challenging practices of populist truth-making in Europe.

Three open positions for PhD students / research fellows at HU Berlin, UCL London and JU Krakow will be advertised in the next weeks. Job advertisements at UCL and HU Berlin are already open (see below), the one at JU Krakow will follow shortly. Please note the different requirements for and profiles of the individual PhD positions.