This is good news. Minister James Moore
and the ‘Harper’ government are to be congratulated. First, for doing away with the Museum of Civilization – one that has always struck me as having too much building and not enough significant stuff to fill it with, save perhaps for a rather odd multicultural hodge-podge of Himalayan masks, royal baubles, wooden birds, beads, pots, pans, viking Helmuts (or helmets, take your pick), mummies, knick-knacks, quirky memorabilia (and, okay, the dead sea scrolls); and second, for changing its name and re-focusing its buckshot mandate. This is all good: acknowledgment, in a real way, of the importance of history.
At the press conference this morning, the first, inevitable question had to do with propaganda. Will this new entity simply serve as another arm with which the government can wave its agenda?
My sense is: not necessarily…that’s what the Canadian War Museum is for. Sure, Tory-friendly events, or Prime Ministers, might get spotlighted at the expense of others for a few years, but this will surely change when the next stripe gets into power. No. The fact that there is now an institution dedicated to the telling and ‘bringing to life’ of history is a very good thing.
The more serious question however – one that gets to the essence of history itself - is, how what passes as history gets into the museum, who determines it, and what role will Library and Archives Canada play in all of this.
If you’ve been following this blog you’ll know that history, here, means: that which is proven, and traceable to source documents – material that has been written and/or recorded (officially and otherwise), and acquired and/or preserved for posterity.
No source documents were on display this morning at the press conference. A hockey sweater, yes; a guitar, a watch, a painting
a cigar box,
a van even,
but no source documents – no intellectual history. Sure, Maurice Richard and Rush will sell much better than a dusty old Constitution or book; yes, packaging history to make it popular is essential – but let it be based on the serious research of original sources. Will the new museum provide display space for what’s really important, or will it just be filled with baubles and trinkets, albeit historical Canadian ones this time round? We’ll just have to