Navigating multiple historical narratives in museums: happening next week!

Author: Cassandra Marsillopublic historian and Chief Editor of Bridging blog.

Part 1: Keynote and Roundtable

The 2021 symposium, “Participation and Public Interpretations: How to navigate multiple historical narratives in museums?”, brings together scholars, museum and archives professionals, heritage and other public history practitioners to discuss if and how multiple, and sometimes conflicting, historical narratives can coexist in museums. Hosted for free online by the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH) at the University of Luxembourg, the symposium tackles the issues that arise when museums can become battlegrounds for political discussions, seeking to mediate between often emotionally, and sometimes ideologically, charged discourses about the histories of nations, individuals, and identities. The symposium is happening on Monday, December 6 and Tuesday, December 7.

Dr. Emilie Sitzia, scientific director of the Arts, Sciences and Society programme at the IMéRA, Fiep Westendorp Foundation Special Chair at the University of Amsterdam, and associate professor in the department of History at the University of Maastricht, will give the keynote on this democratizing, but also challenging, practice of “multiple narratives and polyvocality” in historical museums. Reflecting on the ways participatory practices and audience engagement have become major concerns for museums, which were traditionally unidirectional in their approach to education, Sitzia will discuss the challenges, responses, and consequences of these “disruptions.” What are the main issues faced in displaying multiple narratives in museums, from a societal, institutional, and audience perspective? What types of solutions have been developed? How have traditional museum structures and practices been adapted, or completely changed? And what kinds of tensions exist between polyvocality and institutional authority?

Following her presentation, Sharon Babaian, Cedric Brosseau, Erin Gregory, Sarah Jaworski, and Emily Gann will present a roundtable on “Promise and perils of Community-Built Exhibitions in Canada.” Coming from various institutions under Ingenium: Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation, Babaian, Brosseau, Gregory, Jaworski, and Gann will give an overview of a project while exploring the promise and perils of working with different organizations and communities to facilitate research, build collections, and create exhibitions that are more reflective of the diverse and sometimes conflicting experiences of Canadians. They will prioritize reflections on meaningful and accurate inclusion of narratives and perspectives of people with disabilities, women, Indigenous peoples, and BIPOC communities, as well as collaborations informed by questions of equity, inclusion, and forward-looking collecting. Jaworski’s contribution will also tackle collaboration with digital creators, particularly on TikTok, to create frameworks for future digital collecting and content preservation.

The symposium promises to offer stimulating reflections and conversations around extremely relevant case studies and realities faced by cultural, heritage, and historical institutions, as well as for researchers, and society at large. Museums can be battlegrounds for political discussions, seeking to mediate between often emotionally, and sometimes ideologically, charged discourses about the histories of nations, individuals, and identities. Participate in these discussions and ruminations for free, by registering for the two-day event here.


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