Jamtli’s history began in 1912, when the open air museum was inaugurated. But the roots go farther back. Jämtland läns Fornminnesförening (The Cultural Heritage Foundation of Jämtland County) was established as early as 1886. In 1908, the handicraft oriented Jämtslöjd was founded, and the two organisations soon joined forces to promote the establishment of a museum in Östersund
Four years later, the open air museum was inaugurated on the western outskirts of town, on a piece of municipal land hired at a favourable rate. After a public competition, the museum was named Jamtli. In the early years, the museum focused on collecting and exhibiting historical buildings and items, but it also organized courses in folk dance, handicraft and music. The aim was to keep alive traditions that were sinking into oblivion in the wake of industrialisation.
In the late 1920s, construction of a proper museum was commenced. Until then, collections were exhibited in the historical buildings and on various other locations in town.
The new museum was stylistically inspired by the castle architecture of the Vasa era of the 16th century, and its’ grandeur testifies to the importance given to regional cultural heritage at the time. It opened to the public in 1930, with exhibitions focusing on textiles and archaeological finds. The Överhogdal tapestries from the Viking Age were the main attractions. The museum also housed an art section from the very beginning.
In the 1940s, one began to arrange outdoor activities for children. This was a forerunner to the pedagogical activity that has become a hallmark of today’s Jamtli.
In 1953, the first Wednesday dance was arranged at the open air grounds under the name Jamtlikväll (Jamtli Evening). The dances became highly popular, and went on every summer until 1979. In the beginning, they attracted a family audience, but gradually the events became more youth-oriented.
This had unfortunate side effects. The grounds deteriorated, and at a certain stage, historical buildings had to be fenced off from the crowd with barbed wire. Towards the end of the 60s, the need for a thorough restoration of both buildings and activities was clearly visible
In 1974, the museum was reorganized as a foundation, with the Municipality of Östersund, the County Council of Jämtland, Heimbygda (umbrella organization for the county’s Local Heritage Movement) and the Jämtland Arts Association as board members.
At the time, alternative learning methods and new thoughts on the museum’s role in society were spreading. Earlier, historical buildings and items had been considered objects to be studied, admired and contemplated. Now, they were to be incorporated into the daily activities of the museum, and shown in their historical context. These living history – oriented ideas sparked a vitalization of Jamtli. In 1984, amateur actors moved into the historical buildings for the first time, recreating how people lived, worked and spoke in the past. The project was named Jamtli Historyland, and it has been the summer season’s main attraction ever since.
The museum building from 1930 was not ideal for the modernized Jamtli. In 1990, construction of a new museum with modern facilities was begun. Five years later, the building opened to the public, boasting a series of new exhibitions on the cultural history of Jämtland, as well as ample spaces for temporary exhibitions.
The investments have paid off. Jamtli is today one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region. It has won a number of prizes in recent years, including Stora Turismpriset (the Great Tourism Prize) in 2000 and the Children’s Tourist Prize in 2006.
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