Period IV

22 Cantons/Kantone, unity in diversity/Einheit in der Vielfalt/L'unité dans la diversité 1935. Nationalmuseum Zurich. Photo/Foto: TES.

History of Switzerland Exhibition

The National Museum in Zurich presents a new exhibition on the history of Switzerland. The show examines the development of a loose confederation of States of independent cantons to a federal state (Bundesstaat). The exhibition focuses on the development of 550 years, beginning in the late Middle Ages. The exhibition is an interactive journey through these centuries, stressing the importance of the history of geographical, religious and linguistic borders that have been formed and moved, participation and identification with shared symbols, citizenship, the right to vote, the separation of powers and an integrative community and civil society by and for the people. The Constitution of 1848 was also inspired by the American Constitution of 1776 and is the foundation of the multilingual, multicultural and multireligious Federation today.

The exhibition is organised chronologically and starts with the 15th century and the alliance formations between rural cantons, cities and aristocratic (ecclesiastical) rulers.  The 16th century focuses on the Eidgenossenschaft of 1501, Marignano (1515) and the peace treaties with France and the Reformation. The 17th century treats the dominant city bourgeoisie, the guilds and Thirty Years War, the peace treaty of 1648, the mercenary and the international role of the Eidgenossenschaft. The 18th century shows the Enlightenment, the salons (and Geneva as a case study) and the early industrialisation. The 19th century brings the ideals of the French Revolution, but also the resistance against them, the Helvetic Republic (1798-1803), the Mediationsakte (1803-1813) and the confederation of 22 cantons in 1815, followed by political turmoil, civil war (Sonderbundkrieg, 1847) and the Constitution of 1848, the railway construction projects, trade, textile and machine industries, growth of cities and political movements and emigration.  The 20th century covers two themes, the World Wars and the Cold War in one room, the economic boom and social and political changes in the other room with immigration, women’s suffrage, the environmental movement, 1968 and other themes.

The exhibition ends in a way that is unusual for a museum: the future. Five key 21st-century challenges are open for discussion: climate change, migration, issues of sovereignty, life expectancy and robotics. The exhibition uses four languages (Italian, French, German and English) and makes extensive use of interactive media and shows a well-chosen selection of objects. It also avoids the contemporary post-modern approach of putting  ‘Europe’ in the centre of the attention and not the centuries-long development of the nation-state, the fundament of direct democracy, the social system, identity and the monetary and (innovative) model of the country. (further information: