Tourism and the Rise of the Living History Museum in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada
In the 1960s, Canadians could step through time to eighteenth-century trading posts or nineteenth-century pioneer towns. These living history museums promised authentic reconstructions of the past but, as Time Travel shows, they revealed more about mid-twentieth-century interests and perceptions of history than they reflected historical fact.
The post-war appetite for commercial tourism led to the development of living history museums. They became important components of economic growth, especially as part of government policy to promote regional economic diversity and employment. Time Travel considers these museums in their historical context, revealing how Canadians understood the relationship between their history and the material world.
Using examples from across Canada, Alan Gordon explores how these museums responded to shifting expectations of a nation defined by the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the space race. Along the way, museum projects were shaped by scandal, personality conflicts, funding challenges, and the need to balance education and entertainment: historical authenticity was often less important than the tourist experience. Ultimately, the rise of the living history museum is linked to the struggle to establish a pan-Canadian identity in the context of multiculturalism, competing anglophone and francophone nationalisms, First Nations resistance, and the growth of the state.
This book will appeal to scholars, students, and teachers of Canadian history, tourism history, cultural studies, cultural policy, heritage conservation, archaeology, architectural history, and museum studies.
Gordon’s research is meticulous and his writing exceptionally coherent. Time Travel is an excellent study of how priorities and preoccupations guide historical interpretation, and an important addition to the study of Canada’s heritage industry.
... Gordon pulls together a staggering amount of materials to provide a compelling glimpse into the history of living history. He illustrates the contradictions that abound—the tensions between scholarship and entertainment; between National and multicultural remembrance; between the colliding narratives of settler and Indigenous histories. There is more to be written on this story, and Gordon has made a significant contribution to this area of historical scholarship. Time Travel is a useful roadmap that scholars might utilize to explore the fascinating contradictions and interplay between narrative, history and authenticity, so exemplified in the living history museum.
As a comprehensive history of public history in Canada, Time Travel is a welcome text. … Time Travel does a wonderful job of connecting experiments in living history with that national past.
Time Travel is an important book that provides keen insights in the understanding of the emergence of living history museums in mid-twentieth century Canada… In a masterful way, Gordon guides the reader through some of the intellectual debates that shaped the making of the living history museum movement.
Alan Gordon is a master of interpreting present-day uses of history. This study applies his synthesis of the latest scholarship on modern memory and tourism to a fascinating collection of case studies in which he pursues the elusive quarry of authenticity to reveal more genuine truths.
Time Travel may be about living history museums, but it is also about so much more. It adds to our knowledge of the mid-twentieth century and the way in which Canadians looked for a national identity, grappling – or not – with the presence of other cultures in the Canadian mosaic.
In this groundbreaking book, Alan Gordon skilfully weaves together the work of leading thinkers in the fields of living history, tourism, historiography, museology, and heritage to advance our understanding of the development, and emerging theory, of living history museums.
Introduction: Living History Time Machines
Part 1: Foundations
1 History on Display
2 The Foundations of Living History in Canada
3 Tourism and History
Part 2: Structures
4 Pioneer Days
5 A Sense of the Past
6 Louisbourg and the Quest for Authenticity
Part 3: Connections
7 Fur and Gold
8 The Great Tradition of Western Empire
9 The Spirit of B & B
10 People and Place
11 Genuine Indians
Conclusion: The Limits of Time Travel
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