Categorisation Project

The Categorization Project and database has been developed by DEMHIST to assist Historic House Museums in understanding their own special character and in being able to easily find others with Historic House Museums with similar activities and facilities.


The “Categorization Project” was born from an idea by Rosanna Pavoni, was already mentioned in a speech at the 1997 Genoa conference “Living History” when DEMHIST was founded . The project was approved by the first General Assembly of the association (St Petersburg, 1999); developed at a subsequent Board meeting in Versailles, February 2000, which entrusted Pavoni with the task of coordinating the preparation of questionnaires and typological grids; and discussed in its first phase at the Annual Conference held in Genoa, November 2000, under the Chairmanship of Giovanni Pinna. Two objectives were declared for the initiative (Pavoni 2000):

1) Inform the public, before or during the visit, about the type of museum they are accessing, to help them calibrate expectations and attention.

2) Facilitate exchanges at management level, helping the staff of individual institutions to get in touch with the institutes most similar in terms of problems and cultural horizons.

The leading idea, explored especially in the period in which Rosanna Pavoni was Chair (2002 – 2005), was to connect the division into categories to the type of narrative on which the individual institutes focus (Pavoni 2001 and 2002). Taking it for granted that the panorama of house museums is not unitary, but includes institutions of different origins and intentions, it seemed useful to identify criteria which, in facilitating taxonomic comparison, underlined at the same time how the setting up of a museum is inevitably the result of curatorial choices. In other words, of an active process of interpretation in which the distinction between what is authentic/original and what is the result of subsequent interpolations can lose meaning, because it is essential, rather, to define and strengthen the message and the overall identity that, through the organization of the visit itinerary, the management of an institute wants to convey.


Breakdown by category

The breakdown by category, as it emerged from two annual conferences held in Malta in 2006 and Vienna in 2007, is currently as follows (Bryant – Behrens 2007):

  • I – Personality Houses (writers, artists, musicians, politicians, military heroes or others).
  • II – Collection Houses (the former home of a collector or a house now used to show a collection).
  • III – Houses of Beauty (where the primary reason for a museum is the house as work of art).
  • IV – Historic Event Houses (houses that commemorate an event that took place in /by the house).
  • V – Local Society Houses (house museums established by a local community usually seeking a social cultural facility that may reflect its own identity).
  • VI – Ancestral Homes (country houses and small castles open to the public).
  • VII – Power Houses (palaces and large castles open to the public).
  • VIII – Clergy Houses (monasteries, abbot’s houses and other ecclesiastical buildings with a former or current residential use, open to the public).
  • IX – Humble Homes (vernacular buildings such as modest farms values ​​as reflecting a lost way of life and or building construction)

It must be emphasized that, from the beginning, this list of categories was not intended as definitive, but as a proposal open to integrations depending on the evolution of the DEMHIST, also in contact with other cultures and countries (Pavoni 2013).

The implementation of the project slowed down after 2009, when the first classifications of the over 130 museums that had contributed to defining it were validated (Pavoni 2009). This is both due to the emergence of new lines of work within the Board, and to the difficulty of identifying an institution that would ensure the permanent updating of a unified database. Over time, other subdivisions by categories have been suggested by various authors; that of DEMHIST has, however, remained the authoritative list, thanks to the wide round of consultations between specialists on which it was based, and continues to be used in international publications (e.g. Carvalho 2013). Above all, as underlined by Julius Bryant and Hetty Behrens, two of the figures who, with Rosanna Pavoni and Linda Young, contributed most to the project, the forms, questionnaires and reflection materials produced retain an unaltered value as a working tool for clarifying the nature of the museum and for facilitate informed choices in communication, conservation and restoration strategies.


Original text in Italian by Gianluca Kannes

Download the original text


Resources used : 

  • Pavoni 2000: R. Pavoni, Order Out of Chaos: the Historic House Museums Categorization Project in Historic House Museums Speak to the Public: Spectacular Exhibits versus a Philological Interpretation of History, Acts of the First Annual Conference Demhist (Genoa 2000), S. Paolo d’Argon 2001, pp. 6 –68. [PDF soon to appear]


  • Pavoni 2001: R. Pavoni, The Second Phase of the Categorization Project: Sub-Categories in New Forms of Management for Historic House Museums?, in Acts of the Second Annual Conference Demhist (Barcelona 2001), Lavis 2002, pp. 51-57. [PDF soon to appear]


  • Demhist 2002: R Pavoni, The second Phase of the Categorization Project: Understanding Your House Through Sub-Categories, in Historic House Museums as Witnesses of National and Local Identities, Acts of the Third Annual Conference Demhist (Amsterdam 2002), Amsterdam 2003, pp . 117-122. [PDF soon to appear]


  • Demhist 2007: J. Bryant – H. Behrens The Demhist Categorization Project for Historic Houses Museums. Project Report and Plan, 2007, text drafted on behalf of the Board at the Annual Conference in Malta 2006 and presented in Vienna in 2007



  • Pavoni, Casas museo: perspectivas para un nuevo role en la cultura y la sociedad, in Casas museo: museología y gestión, in Actas de los Congresos sobre Casas Museo (2006, 2007, 2008), Madrid, Museo Nacional de Romanticismo – Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, 2013 [PDF from]


  • Pavoni 2009: A list of Museums and their proposed categories a c. by R. Pavoni, published on the Demhist website by decision of the Board at the 2008 Bogotà Annual Conference


  • Carvalho 2013: Museus – casas historicas no Brasil, a c. by A.C. Carvalho, Sao Paulo 2013.


A Dutch House Museums database has also been developed by the Nederlands Architectuur Instituut and the Flemish House Museum :

(Website in Dutch)