Multicultural Nationalism (and Its Limits) in Canada’s Museums
Canada’s brand of nationalism celebrates diversity – so long as it doesn’t challenge the unity, authority, or legitimacy of the state. In Exhibiting Nation, Caitlin Gordon-Walker explores this tension between unity and diversity in nationally recognized museums, institutions that must make judgments about what counts as “too different” in order to celebrate who we are as a people and a nation.
Exhibiting Nation takes readers on a journey through three museums, stopping to focus on exhibitions, programs, and features that demonstrate how notions of unity in diversity can shape the way museums engage visitors’ senses and make use of space. The Royal BC Museum’s Modern History Galleries showcases an exhibit that both reflects and reinforces the politics of unity in diversity, while the Royal Alberta Museum’s Folklife/Cultural Communities program encapsulates the politics of equality and recognition. Finally, the spatial organization of the Royal Ontario Museum’s World Cultures Galleries reflects a particularly Canadian notion of diversity within a universalist or global framework.
Although the contradictions that lie at the heart of multicultural nationalism have the potential to constrain political engagement and dialogue, Gordon-Walker concludes that the sensory feasts on display in Canada’s museums provide a space for citizens to both question and renegotiate the limits of their national vision.
This book will be of interest to scholars and students of museum studies, anthropology, and cultural studies and will also appeal to those with an interest in social and political theory.
Exhibiting Nation is an accessible book that contextualizes prominent Canadian institutions within the established study of museology, making it an academic contribution that has been long overdue. Its case study approach will be valuable to both curators and academics[...]
Complicating the story of how museums engage with cultural diversity, this book offers a refreshing look at the limitations and opportunities for opening up alternative understandings of multiculturalism within museum practices.
Exhibiting Nation is a bold examination of the power and privilege relations associated with a particularly Canadian type of multiculturalism and how specific museums work within, support, and push against these constructs.
Caitlin Gordon-Walker is an interdisciplinary scholar who studies the politics of public cultural representation in relation to nationalism, colonialism, and difference.
Preface: A Sense of Discomfort
Part 1: Introduction
1 Multicultural Nationalism and the Power of Metaphor
2 Museums, Discipline, and Dialogue
Part 2: Feast
3 The Limits of Unity in Diversity
4 The Royal BC Museum’s Modern History Galleries
Part 3: Spectacle
5 The Limits of Equality and Recognition
6 The Royal Alberta Museum’s Cultural Communities Program
Part 4: Border
7 The Limits of Universalism and Diversity
8 The Royal Ontario Museum’s World Cultures Galleries
Epilogue: Working with the Contradictions
Notes; Bibliography; Index
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