Museum has rich history
Re: Good riddance, Disneyland North, Dec. 15.
I was disappointed by noted writer and historian Charlotte Gray’s take on the renaming of the Canadian Museum of Civilization to the Canadian Museum of History.
National historic amnesia is indeed in evidence — as is amnesia about the museum’s own history, with museology as its basic historic principle. The museum was founded as a display hall for the Geological Survey of Canada’s minerals, biological specimens, and historical and ethnological artifacts. In 1910, it became the National Museum of Canada, moving into the new Victoria Memorial Museum building, where it was directed by anthropologists, not historians. In 1968, it was split into the Canadian Museum of Man and the Canadian Museum of Nature. Because of gender issues, the Museum of Man was subsequently renamed the Canadian Museum of Civilization. But it is quite a linguistic (and cultural) leap to make history a synonym of civilization, regardless of your political or gender bias.
While Gray critiques the existing History Hall, and former director George F. MacDonald’s purported “Disneyfication” of the exhibits, she makes no mention of the scholarship in anthropology, archeology and ethno-history on which the museum has traditionally been based, before “interactive,” “cool,” “multisensory” and “virtual” became marketing buzz words. Nor does she mention the museum’s collection of totem poles. Although reportedly staying put, the collection is perhaps the main attraction of the Museum of Civilization, celebrating native Canadian material culture and artifacts, while aboriginal issues of land claims and residential schools are debated in the news, politics and academia. The “slinky” architecture of Douglas Cardinal is evidence of Canadian aboriginal aesthetics and culture, not of the Conservative government’s new friendship with historians and their “narrative lessons.” But, like librarians and archivists, museologists are not historians (except as side effects of being information specialists), not politicians, and therefore, not on the government’s radar.
ELISABETH V. KRUG,