Stephan Ahrens: Skyscraper and handbag. A history of film museum

Before cinema, there were already museum exhibitions with film-related objects. The historical perspective on the film museum shows its ever-changing film-aesthetic preconditions as well as its limited scope in the contemporary situation.

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[Translate to Englisch:]  (opens enlarged image)
Blick in die Ausstellung des Kinematografické muzeum in Prag (Quelle: Brichta, Jindrich: The Museum of Cinematography in Prague. In: The Czechoslovak Film, Nr. 10, 1955. S. 3-5, hier S. 4).

Film museums are open to visitors all over the world. Those who visit them quickly learn about their diversity in design, from sober presentations to elaborate stagings, and exhibition materials, from  cameras, to costumes, to posters. Behind this richness of form lies a complex history of film exhibiting. To better understand the museological place of the film museum among other institutions, this research project first tracks the emergence of collections and exhibitions of film-related objects at world's fairs and trade fairs since the 1890s, before examining the national and international debates on the creation of a film museum in different countries which followed the various film exhibitions in Europe of the 1920s and 30s. Finally, the processes of design, presentation methods and selection of exhibits featured in the museum will be discussed.. 

The concept of a film museum emerged internationally before the industrial commodification of film (or: the film experience), and has always been juxtaposed with commercial cinema. 

The creation of film museums after 1945 are examined from the perspective of their critics, and placed in the context of a broader museum critique.  Finally, the integration of film and video in art museums, which took place along with the boom of film museums in the 1980s and had a lasting impact on film museums, will be examined.  In the context of the history of film museums, the question is whether it is not losing its commercial and cinematic counterpart here and taking on a new function in film culture. 


  • Project lead: Stephan Ahrens
  • CV:  Stephan Ahrens studied film in Mainz, Zurich and Berlin. After receiving his master's degree, he worked at the Filmmuseum Potsdam and as a graduate trainee at the Zeughauskino in Berlin. Since 2021 he teaches film at the Institute for Media Studies at Paderborn University. 
  • Contact: stephan.ahrens(at)
  • PhD Advisors: 
  • Scientific PhD in the discipline:  Media Studies