The Museum without Objects. A Visit to Sweden’s Museum of Wrecks.

The Entrance of Vrak, Museum of Wrecks, Stockholm, Sweden.
Photo: Erika Harlitz-Kern

As the heat and humidity of the South Florida summer continues, I have found myself thinking about the trip I took to Sweden last December. Blue skies, midwinter sunshine, snow, and cool air just above or just below freezing. I spent one of those lovely winter days visiting the Museum of Wrecks, a flagship museum recently added to the roster of tourist destinations in Sweden’s capital, Stockholm.

Museum of Wrecks is a museum dedicated to shipwrecks. The sea floor of the Baltic Sea, on whose shores Stockholm is located, and along which Sweden has its longest coastline, is littered with shipwrecks from all time periods, from the Stone Age until today. There are several reasons for that.

First, the Baltic Sea has been the main route for long-distance communications for thousands of years. The cargo ships and passenger ferries that criss-cross this sea today are the modern day bearers of a legacy that involves Stone Age settlers, Vikings, pirates, naval fleets, and trade ships. That many ships over that long period of time produce a lot of shipwrecks.

Second, the Baltic Sea is low on oxygen with limited water exchange. The only connection the Baltic Sea has to another large body of water, in this case the North Sea, is through the narrow straights of Øresund, Kattegatt, and Skagerrak, located between Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. These conditions prevent organic matter from deteriorating in the Baltic Sea. The result of the slow deterioration of organic matter is that shipwrecks are better preserved here than in other seas. Why? Because up until the late nineteenth century when steam engines replaced sail, ships were built from wood.

Map of Øresund, Kattegatt, and Skagerrak.
Source: Wikipedia/Public domain.

Third, the water in the Baltic Sea is brackish, not salt. Because of the limited water exchange through Øresund and the number of freshwater rivers flowing into the Baltic Sea from Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Baltic States, Poland, and Germany, the freshwater and salt water mix in the Baltic Sea makes the sea brackish. The brackish water prevents the naval ship worm (Teredo navalis) from thriving. The naval ship worm is not a worm, and it has nothing to do with ships per se. The naval ship worm is a salt-water clam that feeds on the cellulose found in wood submerged in water. It is called a worm because the traces the clam leaves behind in the wood look like worm tracks. The naval ship worm needs the saline level of the water in which it lives to be above a certain level. Because the Baltic Sea is brackish, the saline level is too low, and the naval ship worm has not been able to establish itself there. The result is that all those wooden shipwrecks littering the floor of the Baltic Sea are left unharmed.

Museum of Wrecks created quite a buzz when it first opened in September 2021. Not only is it the first museum dedicated entirely to shipwrecks, most astonishing of all is that there are no objects on display. Instead, Museum of Wrecks takes a deep dive into the possibilities provided by 3D, holograms, and surround sound and visual entertainment.

Museum of Wrecks created quite a buzz when it first opened in September 2021. Not only is it the first museum dedicated entirely to shipwrecks, most astonishing of all is that there are no objects on display. Instead, Museum of Wrecks takes a deep dive into the possibilities provided by 3D, holograms, and surround sound and visual entertainment.

When you arrive at the Museum of Wrecks it looks like any other museum. There is a shop, a café, and a counter where you buy your ticket. When you enter the exhibits, you arrive in a room with benches where you watch a movie about the Baltic Sea. Unlike most other museum movies, you are surrounded by images and sound that place you underneath the surface of the sea. Divers, marine animals, flotsam and jetsam surround you as you look up towards the ceiling.

The next stop is the permanent exhibit about the warship Resande Man, which sank in November 1660 on a diplomatic mission to Poland. Again, the exhibit takes place on the bottom of the sea. An entire wall of the room is an image of the sea floor. But what is most striking is that when you first enter the room, the room looks empty. All you see are transparent boxes with nothing in them. As you approach them, images appear. The images are holograms that consist of 3D scans of artifacts from Resande Man followed by short vignettes that locate the artifacts where they are found on the sea floor inside the wreck.

Video of hologram at the exhibit of Resande Man, Museum of Wrecks, Stockholm, Sweden.
Filmed by Erika Harlitz-Kern

The next part of the museum is an exhibit of six different shipwrecks from different time periods that demonstrate the interconnectedness of the Baltic Sea across the centuries up until the most recent disaster involving the passenger ferry M/S Estonia in 1994. The final part of the museum is about maritime archaeology where once again 3D holograms come to great use. I really appreciated the dedicating of an entire section of the museum to research. It is rare that museum visitors get to see the work behind the information presented in the exhibits.

Museum of Wrecks left me invigorated at the same time as it also left me unsatisfied. The use of 3D images, holograms, and immersive audiovisual experiences were all refreshing and, at least in my mind, points in the direction of a way forward for a sector that currently struggles with how to offer a new experience to jaded tourists, how to handle the issue of displaying objects whose provenance is in doubt, and how to deal with issues regarding storage and preservation. At the same time, Museum of Wrecks is small, its exhibits are narrow in scope, and while the room with Resande Man felt nearly empty, the rooms dedicated to maritime research are cramped and overladen with information and objects.

Still, if you are in Stockholm, I recommend a visit to the Museum of Wrecks. It will give you a new perspective on the Baltic Sea throughout history and what the museums of the future might look like.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

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One for the Money, Two for the Show. Or, Why Do We Write Our Blogs, Anyway?

Photo by Polina Kovaleva on Pexels.com

As I have mentioned before, at the beginning of this year (2022), I decided to write one blog post per week as an experiment. I wanted to see what a weekly writing habit could do for my craft as a writer. I also wanted to see if I could increase traffic to the blog by adding more content.

We are now halfway through the month of August, which means that I have been blogging nearly once a week for eight and a half months. I say nearly, because there have been five weeks across these months when I did not post anything on the blog, and one week when I posted twice. It has now been more than half a year, and I can start seeing some early results.

Let’s look at traffic first. The idea is that the more content you put out there, the more attention your are going to get. Is that true? Yes and no.

Yes, the total number of views on the blog has gone up because I have been blogging more. And no, because even though I have been blogging more and the total number of views has increased as a result, the average number of views per individual post is nearly the same. There is an increase, but the increase is so slight it is negligible. This average per post includes posts that are old as well as new.

This year I invested in an upgrade of my blog platform for the first time. I wanted to see if an upgrade could help increase the blog’s reach.

This year I invested in an upgrade of my blog platform for the first time. I wanted to see if an upgrade could help increase the blog’s reach. Since I started The Boomerang in 2013, I have been using the free version of WordPress. In February of 2022, I paid an annual platform fee for the first time. So far, though, it has been a poor return on investment. Yes, I now have access to Google Analytics, and I am able to add payment buttons to each post for those who wish to support The Boomerang with a small financial contribution (see below), but apart from that, not much has changed.

What about craft, then?

Craft is where I can see that something has changed. I started writing blog posts on The Boomerang in 2013. In 2014, I got my first freelance gig as a recurring contributor to Book Riot. In other words, I have been writing more or less constantly for nine years. Freelancing is mostly a side job to my regular job as instructor at Florida International University, but at times, it has been my main source of income.

This summer, I worked on the submission package that I will use when I query the Codex Gigas book project. I was surprised by how easy the writing process went. Yes, I did get very concerned when the proposal refused to come together, but I didn’t panic, because I found the solution to the problem, and steered the text in that direction instead. Writing the sample chapter was a breeze, which was wholly unexpected. One more thing: I discovered that I have developed a voice.

I am convinced that all of that came together they way it did because I have been writing one blog post every week since January. Every Friday morning, I have written something and published it. Some mornings I had to force myself, other mornings the words came easy. Some weeks, the blog post was written before Friday (spoiler: I am writing this on Thursday August 18, 2022). And some weeks, I decided to take a break. Forcing yourself to be creative when you don’t have to can be as counterproductive as not being creative at all.

As writers, we are bombarded with advice on what to do with our blogs, and why we should start one if we don’t have one. What this advice always boils down to is how to monetize our blogs, how to become rich on our blogs, as if that is a blog’s only purpose. I went into the project of writing one blog post a week influenced by this advice.

As writers, we are bombarded with advice on what to do with our blogs, and why we should start one if we don’t have one. What this advice always boils down to is how to monetize our blogs, how to become rich on our blogs, as if that is a blog’s only purpose. I went into the project of writing one blog post a week influenced by this advice.

However, sometime during the spring, I realized that I don’t care about the money when it comes to The Boomerang. (Don’t get me wrong. I do care about money when it comes to freelance writing, but I don’t work for free for anyone else but myself.) Nor do I care about the number of views on each post.

Once I realized this, I added a new catch phrase to the blog banner. In addition to “Understand History, Understand the World,” the banner now says “Thinking Out Loud with Erika Harlitz-Kern, PhD and Historian-at-Large.” Because that is what I do, and that is what I am. By expressing my thoughts out loud in writing for anyone in the world to read (according to the Stats and Insights, readers of The Boomerang really do live all over the world), I found my voice; I found a way to write even when my mind is blank; and I found a way to wiggle myself out of the corners I sometimes write myself into.

To summarize, I write this blog for me. Here is where I express my thoughts the way I want to express them. It is only when we write for no one else but ourselves that we develop our voice. Because when we write for ourselves, we set the rules, we set the tone, we decide the parameters.

The Boomerang will not make me rich, but it is making me a better writer. And isn’t that what we all really strive for?

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

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Apples, Oranges, and Totalitarian Eugenics. A Review of Yuval Noah Harari’s HOMO DEUS

What does it mean to present something new? What does it mean when someone is appointed the spokesperson of an age?

Does it mean that the anointed one is saying something that has never been said before? Or, does it mean that what is being said is the same old stuff but in new packaging and those who believe in the status quo lap it up as further validation of their beliefs?

These are the questions that I ask myself after reading Yuval Noah Harari’s book Homo Deus. A Brief History of Tomorrow. At the back of the book, critics rave about Harari as a rod for the Zeitgeist and his uncanny ability to predict where human civilization is going. After finishing this book, I agree with none of that. If Harari is a rod for the Zeitgeist and able to predict where humanity is headed, we are in trouble.

Harari’s thesis in Homo Deus is that famine, plague, and war has prevented humanity from realizing its full potential, but now in the twenty-first century when these three are about to be eradicated, humanity will move on to pursue the goals of immortality, happiness, and divinity. The goal is to make ourselves immortal. To upgrade ourselves from Homo sapiens to Homo deus. We will achieve this upgrade through biomechanical engineering, that is through the indefinite postponement of death.

The first couple of chapters of Homo deus are thought-worthy discussions where Harari sets up the parameters of his argument. The idea that we can change the future by abandoning how history has been written in the past is a compelling one and charts out a direction for twenty-first century historians working to save the discipline from its own sordid past. The discussion on how human’s fear of death drives creativity, compassion, and ingenuity is also interesting, although not particularly groundbreaking.

The purpose of these early discussions is for Harari to set the stage for an in-depth discussion about how human beings are biological machines who can, and should, be engineered for optimal performance. The premise here is that human beings do not have a soul. That is to say, Harari dehumanizes human beings by claiming that there is no humanity to them, only biology. Because humans beings are only biology, they are not sentient. What we perceive as consciousness are neurological responses to external stimuli. Conclusion: Non-sentient beings can be experimented upon without ethical implications.

As the book progresses, it becomes evident why Harari spends so much time removing humanity from human kind. Because what Harari ends up advocating for in our future is the engineering of humans. That is to say, Harari is an advocate for eugenics on a scale never seen before.

The future that Harari predicts is based on his own worldview, which by the end of the book has revealed itself as anti-democratic, anti-human rights, pro-eugenics, pro-totalitarianism, and racist. What began as an interesting discussion on how to change history writing as we move into the future has at the end morphed into a screed against liberalism as a political ideology, the complete dehumanization of humanity, and the promotion of the opaque, ill-defined new religion of Dataism.

To get there, Harari engages in hypotheticals of the type if-so-then-this, which are never backed up by evidence. The analytical leaps he takes are gigantic. The language is consistently vague. The comparisons are in the vein of comparing apples and oranges. Historical facts are either misrepresented so that liberal achievements are turned into socialist achievements or plain misunderstandings of history, period. Singapore is called a successful no-nonsense city state, the Soviet Union is called mighty, conquest and colonization of other (read: Black and Brown) civilizations is a good thing, and Hitler was right in principle but wrong in method.

Homo Deus is an incoherent argument in favor of eugenics, totalitarianism, and colonization. View anyone who agrees with this book with great suspicion, and whatever you do, keep them away from your human and civil rights.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

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