History Laboratory – young people on the search for their identity

Sustainable Value
Corporate Responsibility / Governance

Published on 07.12.2017 CET

Vontobel supports the "History Laboratory" in the Landesmuseum Zurich. In this interview, Stefanie Bittmann explains the background of the project and how this workshop helps young people find their identity.

Stefanie Bittmann

Stefanie Bittmann is a teacher and Project Manager of the "History Laboratory". She has worked at the Landesmuseum Zurich since January 2015 in the area "Education + Teaching".

How did the idea of the History Laboratory come about?
A museum is a place where memories are collected. It thus reflects a society’s identity. Our intention with the History Laboratory is to provide students with a new and exciting access to historical objects and photographs. The term "History Laboratory" implies an approach to history that is based on research and discovery. In the workshop, young people have the opportunity to put historical learning to the test – by making observations, and then through description, research, contextualization and interpretation. They learn how to reconstruct the past from the present in order to gain orientation for the future.

How can the past offer orientation for the future?
Future needs background. When young people come face to face with their environment, they are constantly confronted with new phenomena and situations. They question many things and seek answers to their own history and the history of their origins. In short, young people are in search of their own identity. In the History Laboratory, we want to encourage young people to become aware of their own experiences and interests and when talking about them with their friends, to experience the diversity of their histories and identities as something enriching. They implement these findings in a constructive way, accepting responsibility for themselves, their community and society.


The History Laboratory at the National Museum Zurich mediates identity. © Video: Landesmuseum Zurich

What do young people experience in the History Laboratory?
The History Laboratory is a locus of learning that is outside the school environment they are used to, where lower-level secondary school students can try out exploratory, research-based, and present-oriented learning techniques. Each student selects an object in the research landscape and comes to grips with it in detail. Index cards containing information on the object and related topics, various nonfiction books and the Internet can all be used in their research. The young visitors learn a lot about the past – allowing them also to relate to their own history. They reflect on these learnings and discuss them with the knowledge that every human being is a witness to the age we live in. Every story is different.

A History “Laboratory” sounds rather experimental...
We deliberately chose this name. The term “laboratory” derives from Latin laborare, meaning “to work”. The young people work in the research landscapes with white gloves on – exactly like our curators and restoration specialists do. It is an intense, serious and extremely exciting work. But I also like the connection with experimentation very much. We want to give the students experimental freedom. When they are formulating their interpretations, they should have a lot of scope and connect their research with their own personal history. In this sense, there are no right or wrong results, but instead personal insights.

About the History Laboratory

The transition from childhood to adulthood involves many uncertainties and questions about one's personality. Examining one’s personal history in a societal context supports young people in their search for their own identity. In the History Laboratory in the Landesmuseum Zurich, young people embark on an interactive journey into the past, and toward themselves.

The History Laboratory was made possible by the partnership with Vontobel.

Who are we? What makes us matter? The question of our identity moves society; art, science, politics and every one of us seek answers. This interview with Stefanie Bittmann is one of numerous contributions that illuminate the topic of identity from a new, inspiring perspective.