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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Patterns of change, sources of influence : an historical study of the Canadian museum and the middle class, 1850-1950 Mak, Eileen Diana


This thesis argues the continued relationship between museums and the middle class over the period from 1850 to 1950, showing in particular how major events and trends affecting the history of the middle class influenced the manner in which museums developed. It argues, however, that, despite participation in an international bourgeois culture which included a worldwide "museum movement', the regional circumstances of both museums and the middle class in Canada had a significant effect on their related histories determining, if not the final product, at least the timing of its completion and the manner in which it was reached. This argument is made through a comparison of the histories of the Provincial Museum of Nova Scotia, the Ontario Provincial Museum, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the British Columbia Provincial Museum. For each institution, three themes are considered: the way in which its collection shaped or reflected a regional identity; the form of education it offered, the intended audience, and the ways in which both changed; and the impact of professionalization on both the museum and the people who worked in it. The comparisons show that, despite the uniqueness of the museums' collections and histories, in the final analysis, each institution conformed to the patterns of the 'museum movement', or, as in the case of professionalization, to the pattern of a professionalizing middle-class society. Informed by recent critical work on the history of museums, this thesis uses archival and secondary sources to establish the narratives of four Canadian museums and places them into the broader context of the international 'museum movement', while also indicating the uniqueness of Canadian cultural institutions created by the colonial experience. In this way, it adds a new perspective to the history of Canadian museums. At the same time, it adds to our understanding of the Canadian middle class through its demonstration of how the major societal trends affected individual members of that class.

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