HIST 5705W: Museums, National Identity and Public Memory
Winter 2021

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 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 to visitor evaluations that shape how we do history.

Class Format: The course is offered once a week in a three-hour block.  Each class will include a conceptual discussion, and hands-on application of the gained knowledge. Guest speakers will share their expertise in acquisitions, design, evaluations, and fundraising for museum public history projects. Some of the classes will take place at Ingenium in the national collection preservation and conservation Centre.

If necessary, this class can be delivered via digital tools. In that case, we will meet on-line, but will maintain the format of break-out sessions, guest speakers, virtual visits to the collection, a virtual acquisition committee meeting and a fundraising pitch session.

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 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 in collections, interpretive plans, exhibitions and programming, and public engagement.

Questions? Please email: Anna.adamek@carleton.ca or aadamek@ingeniumcanada.org