In June, I traveled to Iceland to visit three museums: The Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik, the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavik, and the Icelandic Seamonster Museum in Bildudalur.
As the micromuseums project has developed I’ve become increasingly interested in what I’m calling (for now) “somewhat natural histories,” that is, natural histories that don’t really fit within the bounds of traditional museum structures. These include things like odd natural objects and artefacts (such as the enormous collection of animal penises in Reykavik), alternative non-mainstream histories (including history as told through witchcraft and sorcery), and cryptozoology. There are museums dedicated to all of these in Iceland, in part because Iceland has a strong folk history, and in part because after the crash of Iceland’s economy in 2009, tourism was used as a vector to get things back on track. A huge number of small and micromuseums opened around that time, and most of them seem to be thriving. I visited these three and a few larger museums, and already have plans to go back!
Reykjavik is beautiful, and if there were checkboxes on the things that I love (excellent coffee, cool weather, amazing tights, fresh air), Reykjavik would check all of them.
At the outskirts of downtown can be found the Icelandic Phallological Museum. I’ve actually been teaching about this museum for years. It has, not surprisingly, attracted a lot of media attention, but to my knowledge there are no scholarly articles about it. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect – cheesy sex museum? natural history collection? In truth, it’s a bit of both, but I loved it! I loved the glass display cases that mimic mainstream museums, I loved the collection of kitsch, and most especially I loved the collection of folk culture and monster “appendages.”
Throughout the museum there’s a system that lets you know if what you are seeing is a real and documented natural history specimen (green sticker) or a “reproduction” (white sticker). The green stickered items often have a great deal of information attached to them. While the museum itself has a sense of fun the research is quite serious – there are 96 species represented there. If you want to know about whale reproduction, penile morphology, or how to collect animal appendages in Iceland this is the place to come. But so too, if you want to see um, certain parts of the entire Icelandic handball team, or learn about the museum’s (successful!) quest for a human specimen, you might want to visit as well.
Tim was with me on this part of the trip, and we spent the next couple of days immersed in Iceland, climbing mountains, frolicking on the black sand beaches, dancing in the lupins, swimming outdoors, and just altogether falling in love with the country.