HIST 5705F: Museums, National Identity and Public Memory: A Practical Approach
Fall 2022

Instructor: Anna Adamek, Director of Curatorial Division at Ingenium: Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation

Introduction: This course invites students to explore behind-the-scenes operations of national museums and provides them with in-depth, practical understanding of how museums both reflect and create national narratives and public memory. Whose stories are we preserving and telling? What are the “silences” in national collections? Who is excluded from our narrations, and who benefits from them? The course will explore social, cultural, and political context in which museums operate.

Although we often tend to focus on exhibitions, the storytelling process begins long before an exhibition opens to the public. While based in a theoretical framework and historiography, this course will look at actual museum practices, from artifact acquisitions and exhibition design to visitor evaluations and fundraising that shape how we do history.

Class Format: The course is offered once a week in a three-hour block. The focus is on hands-on exploration, and strengthening students’ public history methodologies in the museum context. Therefore, classes will be held at Carleton University, Ingenium Centre, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Central Experimental Farm. Students will first be invited to experience and experiment with museological practices, and then to compare their experiences with established methodologies through readings and in-class discussion. They will be encouraged to experiment and create their own theories around different ways of creating national narrations. Guest speakers will share their expertise in acquisitions, design, evaluations, and fundraising for museum public history projects.

In class discussion portion of the course can be delivered via Zoom.

Aims and Goals: Get ready to apply your public history skills! The aim of this course is to encourage students to take on roles and tasks of museum professionals. The students will have an opportunity to work on acquisition plans, use material culture methodologies to “read” artifacts, understand fundraising and sponsorship culture in museums, gain skills in co-curation and shared authority, write exhibition text, and explore diversity of tools that museums use to engage their publics. The ultimate goal is to prepare the students to apply their theoretical knowledge to shape national discussions in museum context.

Assessment: Since this is a hands-on course, attendance and class participation is key.  Students will have a choice of formats in which they can deliver their final assignments that reflect variety in museum work. 

Text:  We will discuss articles on difficult national narratives and polyvocality in museums around the world and in Canada, but the focus will be on looking at museum tools used to reflect and create these narratives through collections, interpretive plans, exhibitions and programming, and public engagement.

Questions? Please email: Annaadamek@cunet.carleton.ca or aadamek@ingeniumcanada.org