Museums and Historical Consciousness: Emergent Themes in Theory and Practice
To date, very little literature explicitly explores the relationships of museums and heritage to historical consciousness, despite the overlapping concerns shared by these respective fields. This roundtable addresses the subject of museums as sites of historical consciousness by reflecting on a recent book project. Museums as Sites of Historical Consciousness: Perspectives on Museum Theory and Practice in Canada (working title, UBC Press, 2016) examines (1) ways that museums create and share knowledge about the past and operate as sites where historical consciousness is activated and constructed and (2) the diversity of Canadian perspectives on the subject. Chapters investigate museum constructs of history, calling on institutional, collective and individual forms of remembrance, while simultaneously weighing political, economic and personal motivations for teaching and learning about the past. Several notable themes emerged during the crafting of this book, such as the significance of visitor meaning-making as heritage, the dynamics of controversies and how museums address these, the rhetoric of official narratives, public trust in museums, and alternative methodologies informed by social justice and environmental perspectives. In a continual reflexive act by contributing authors, this round table will build on this recent publication, and themes that emerged within it, in order to expand the discussion on how museums, as sites of historical consciousness, can productively engage contemporary and historical social issues.
Susan Ashley, Jennifer Carter, Viviane Gosselin, Marie-Claude Larouche and Phaedra Livingstone (all confirmed participants) will discuss questions including the following: How does historical consciousness manifest in contemporary museum theory and practice? In what ways do museums foster various forms of interaction with evidence and ideas about the past? How can a greater understanding of the dynamics of historical consciousness contribute productively to contemporary social issues within museum and heritage frameworks?