Civilization is History

At the risk of sounding like one of my more politically minded friends… the Harper government has gone and done it again!

The Museum of Civilization in Ottawa will be changing its name to the Canadian Museum of History. This change is more than just a matter of semantics. Along with the name change will be a new mandate for the museum, which previously emphasised a focus on world heritage. Instead of the broad approach to human civilization as a whole, the museum will narrow its focus to Canadian social and political history.

This change actually makes me cringe – since I rather suspect has been made for political rather than educational purposes and I’m certainly not alone in this criticism. The use of heritage as political currency is disturbing though hardly a new phenomenon and this feels like another case of an external agenda at play.

By all means, construct a museum for the display of Canadian history. I genuinely feel that there is a place for such a museum, particularly in Ottawa. It is not the idea of a “Canadian” museum that bothers me… it is the transformation of a previously encyclopaedic museum to something more limited. Why does it have to be THIS museum changed? Build the museum elsewhere or, if funds do not allow for this, enlarge a smaller or less popular museum. That would truly represent a support of national heritage without the devaluing of world heritage.

This change seems to be emphasising internal history at the cost of a broader understanding of world cultures and their connections. Where will the “non-Canadian” items be sent? Who will define what is “Canadian” enough to be included? Would artefacts brought into the country by migrating settlers be included? It all seems like an attempt to limit the scope of what is currently a very fine museum.

CBC reprt: http://www.cbc.ca/ottawamorning/2012/10/16/museum-name-change/

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