National Museums and the Origins of Nations provides the first international survey of origins stories in national museums and examines the ways in which such museums use the distant past as a vehicle to reflect the concerns of the political present.
Offering an international comparison of institutions in China, North and South America, the Middle East, Europe and Australia, the book argues that national museums tell us more about what sort of community a nation wishes to be today, than how and why that nation came into being. Watson also reveals the ways in which narrative and exhibition design attempt to engage the visitor in an emotional experience designed to promote loyalty to, and pride in, the nation, or to remind visitors who are not citizens that they do not belong. These narratives of origin are, it is claimed, based on so-called factual accuracies, but this book reveals that they are often selective, emotional and rarely critiqued within institutions. At a time when nationalism is very much back on the political agenda, this book highlights how museums reflect current political and social concerns.
National Museums and the Origins of Nations will appeal to academics and students engaged in the study of museums, heritage, politics, nationalism and history.
Table of Contents
2. Nations, museums and the concept of civilisation
3. Nations and emotions
4. History, myth and memory
5. Types of origin stories
6. War and the origins of nations
7. Ethnicity and belonging.
8. Settler societies, guilt and Indigenous inhabitants of the nation
9. The older the better: Pride and politics
Sheila Watson is Associate Professor of Museum Studies in the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, UK, where she has worked since 2003. Before she joined the department she was a museum practitioner, managing projects and exhibitions and encouraging community engagement with the institutions in which she worked. Her research is based around how people understand and use the past, in particular the ways in which emotions affect understanding and drive narratives in museums and other heritage sites. She has published widely on community engagement, heritage, museums and emotions.