History Is Not a Plaything

Article excerpt

Replacing the Canadian Museum of Civilization with the proposed Canadian Museum of History will rob Canadians of our largest and most popular museum by getting rid of an internationally recognized institution that has been at the forefront of historical and archeological research on human cultural heritage in Canada and internationally.

From the federal government's first announcement of the proposed new Canadian Museum of History, some have feared the new museum would be a parochial institution designed to reflect the Harper government's ideological version of history.

With its tabling of Bill C-49, the Canadian Museum of History Act, the government has confirmed that fear was well-founded. The new act indicates not only the narrowing of focus from that of the erstwhile CMC, but an end to that museum's mandate as a knowledge-creating institution.

The act that created the museum of civilization stated the museum's purpose was the increase of critical understanding, knowledge and appreciation for "human cultural achievements and human behaviour." The new act for the museum of history refers only to the "events, experiences, people and objects that reflect and have shaped Canada's history and identity."

The writing and teaching of Canadian history has moved decisively away from such a restricted perspective of our past, because it leaves out the experience of the great majority of the Canadian population. Such a "great-man" approach to history gives no opening for crucial processes that don't fit on a rigid timeline or into a political biography -- the colonization of First Nations, industrialization, gender relations, migration and ethnic conflict, environmental change and much more. Certainly political history is an important component in any presentation of our history, but it must be situated within the rich diversity that Canadians at all levels of society have contributed to our collective past.

Another change in the new act is the elimination of any reference to collecting and developing collections "for research and posterity." This has been dropped entirely from the statement of purpose of the museum of history.

We suspect this change will involve a significant decline in the research and collections function of the new institution. …