Five hours on the exceptional comfortable X2000 from Stockholm sits the picturesque town of Östersund, home to the impressive museum Jamtli. I found the train journey actually became part of the magic of the experience. It whisks you through stunning countryside, showing you glimpses of Sweden’s agricultural past and present. It is a marvellous introduction to the immersive history experience.
I arrived at the Jamtli hostel (my accommodation for the duration of my visit) at around 10.30pm, in the cool May sunshine – a bizarre feeling for someone who lives much closer to the equator – and fell asleep to the sound of a family of sheep outside the window. I had the blinds tightly closed in an attempt to trick my body clock into sleeping for longer. In the morning I walked around the corner and into the Museum.
It was a quiet time of year for Jamtli when I visited. The museum consists of a traditional (or perhaps slightly less than conventional) enclosed museum space opened all year round. But when midsummer arrives the outdoor museum, Historyland, comes alive with around 35 full-time actors for eight weeks. The actors deliver completely first person narratives and encourage visitor participation and immersion.
For those eight weeks the museum entry is 110kr (around $22) for adults and free for children, although this will increase in 2012 – 2012 also marks their 100th anniversary. The rest of the year the outdoor museum is free and the indoor museum costs 60kr. The summer program runs during the school holiday period. Consequently, most school bookings occur either side of the holidays while the weather is still mild.
Many of the education programs include an element of theatre and some, such as Thread of time (students follow a thread back in time to help a boy from the 18th century), actively encourage students to use their imagination and participate in a story. The education staff were very conscious in these programs not to destroy the illusion by setting-up/packing-up in front of the students. The children participated with enthusiasm and conviction, no doubt due to the modelling by the education officer. It was fantastic to watch the students’ trust and interest grow.
Despite the emptiness to the outdoor museum during the off-season, the education programs were still lively and, in some ways, magical. It was special for the students to have exclusive use of some of the old buildings and story-based programs hooked them in further. In the indoor museum there were plenty of hands on opportunities for students to engage in the exhibits, including a slide to enter the museum (inside a mythical water monster), a child-friendly archaeological dig, and a trading game.
I would have loved to see the outdoor museum in the Summer Season, indeed I hope to return sometime. But it was really wonderful to witness the Education Programs. Despite being conducted in Swedish, I was able to appreciate the pedagogical choices made. In fact it was, perhaps, because I understood so few words that I was able to look at the program more structurally.
There was one other great aspect of the museums offer that I witnessed – the Open Kindergarten program. Where a parents/children’s group was run onsite and young families could utilise the museum spaces and resources to engage their children. The museum also offered events to the pre-school community where they could watch and participate in historic farming methods. It was delightful to see the museum utilised in this way and appreciated by the local community.
At the end of my time in Östersund, I was sad to leave. The countryside is stunning, Jamtli is an inspiring museum and the people were all lovely, generous and helpful. I highly recommend taking the journey from Stockholm, it is well worth it.