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The stories nations tell : historical consciousness and the construction of national identity at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Anderson, Stephanie Blair

Abstract

As Canada prepares for its 150th birthday, within the context of its colonial legacy, silenced histories, and multiple, shifting identities in the present, Canadian sites of pedagogy are confronting questions around whose national narratives they are communicating. Within this milieu, Canada recently (2014) inaugurated its sixth national museum, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Using a theoretical frame that applied approaches within critical museology and historical consciousness, this investigation interrogated the CMHR as a site of pedagogy that could be read for its representational and spatial meanings, and as a site of historical consciousness that communicates a past, present, and future vision of Canada.   This research also introduced and utilized a Framework of Canadian National Narratives capturing current constructions of Canadian national identity. This framework identified two master national narrative templates—Master National Narrative Template 1.0 (the progressive, unified, Euro-Western colony-to-nation narrative of Canada), Master National Narrative Template 2.0 (Canada as a progress-oriented, generous, tolerant, multicultural mosaic)—and a third dimension titled Counter National Narratives 3.0, that is not a narrative template. Rather, NN 3.0 captures competing, or silenced aspects of Canadian history through national narratives that contest, rebuke or, intervene in the storylines of Master National Narrative Templates 1.0 and 2.0, thereby providing a more nuanced account and multiple perspectives on Canadian identity. In other instances, NN 3.0 throws into question taken-for-granted notions around the concepts of nationhood and national identity, through narratives grounded in land, place, or global forces. This study offers a new research approach for the identification, and analysis of national narratives in sites of pedagogy—classrooms, textbooks, monuments, national historic sites, museums, news media, architectural spaces, arbitrated cityscapes, Indigenous landscape features, and public performances. It suggests a new curricular imperative coined The Narrative Dimension for history education that might also be used in museology and public history. Part of The Narrative Dimension includes critical engagement with a country’s master national narrative templates and those that problematize them. This investigation further concludes that museum attempts to use this aspect of The Narrative Dimension offer an innovative way to curate difficult knowledge.

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