Navigating multiple historical narratives in museums: happening next week!

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

Part 2: Panels

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.

The five panels will take place on Tuesday, starting with “Multiple Narratives of Conflicting Past,” with Yujie Zhu, Marta Kopiniak, and Ene Kõresaar and Kirsti Jõesalu. Zhu, senior lecturer at the Centre for Heritage and Museum Studies at the Australian National University, will discuss the Memorial Hall of the Nanjing massacre in China as a site of difficult heritage interpretation, with particular attention to the evolving techniques and approaches for engagement. Based on an examination of the “Peers of the Independent Poland” project, Kopiniak, a PhD candidate at the University of Wrocław, will discuss the use of oral history as a participatory method and model for cultural and historical institutions. Through this case study, she is arguing for clearer guidelines and methodologies for successful implementation and to avoid superficial engagement practices, in order to extend participation beyond the interview. Finally, Kõresaar, Professor of Oral History and Memory Studies at the University of Tartu, and Jõesalu, researcher and lecturer of Ethnology at the University of Tartu, will investigate the recent mnemonic trends in the Estonian museumscape, focusing on representations of the communist past and their consequences by looking at the Estonian National Museum, Estonian History Museum, and the Estonian Museum of Occupations and Freedom Vabamu.

Marco Innocenti, Florian Windhager, Johannes Liem, Nicole High-Steskal, Anja Grebe & Eva Mayr, and Mingshi Cui will explore “Representing Fragmented Interpretations,” in the second panel of the day. Innocenti, a masters student in Philosophy and History of Science and Technology at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, provides a conceptual model for polyvocality in museums, using the image of a mosaic. Each piece of the mosaic, he argues, represents a different voice, object, which come together in a complementary way to form the final image. Windhanger, a research associate at the Department for Arts and Cultural Studies at Danube University Krems, Austria, will present with colleagues High-Steskal, Course Director Collection Studies and Management, Research Associate in the Department for Arts and Cultural Studies, Krebe, Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Education, Art and Architecture, Mayr, Research Associate Department for Arts and Cultural Studies, and Liem, a digital cartographer. Working as partners in a research project called InTavia: In/Tangible European Heritage, they argue that developing visual means of multi-perspective knowledge representation could be key methods for mapping out cultural and narrative complexity, both for narrative consensus and controversy. Cui, a PhD candidate at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, will round out the panel with her discussion on the socially meaningful role digitization of objects can play in museums, particularly in the case of displaced objects and drawing on a case study from her research project on a mural fragment called “Three Heads,” originally from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in China but then transported to Germany and the UK.

After lunch, Panel 3, “Visitors and Users as Co-Producers,” will feature talks by Javiera Carmona Jiménez, Jaqueline Correa-Lau and Calogero Santoro Vargas, Dario Rodighiero, and Carla Ayukawa, Chantal Trudel and Tom Everrett. Jiménez, a journalist and faculty member of the University of Playa Ancha, will present with Correa-Lau, a textile designer and academic coordinator of the Paleoenvironment Archeological Laboratory at the High Research Institute of the University of Tarapacá, and her colleague, Vargas, who is also a faculty member at the University of Tarapacá. Their intervention focuses on the “Cultural traceability: Living the memory of the territory in another way” project, which explores cultural mediation and heritage communication with the aim of activating and approaching knowledge production about the rich archaeological and historical past of the Camarones Valley (located in the desert pampas of northern Chile) through dialogue between specialists, local communities, and visitors around various primary sources in the territory. Rodighiero’s “Personal Perceptions in Data-driven Immersive Spaces” will present a project called 3D Cartography of COVID-19 Research, a three-dimensional data visualization through which the work of scientists on COVID-19 is made visible. Rodighiero is doing a postdoc at the metaLAB at Harvard University. Ayukawa and Trudel, School of Industrial Design at Carleton University, alongside Everrett, Curatorial Studies at Carleton University, will present the findings of their research study exploring how to create inclusive narratives that are intended to improve access to museums and exhibitions for people with vision loss, embracing a multisensory examination of two museum objects.

“Community Narratives within Museums,” the fourth panel, will include interventions by Tina De Gendt, Gülsah Stapel and Sina Emde, and Amorette Grace Lyngwa. De Gendt of the Square Kilometer, an experimental participatory research project, mounted by STAM, Ghent city museum, will talk about the story of the Rifboys, a Moroccan youth organization that made a name for itself as a pioneer of ethnic and cultural self-organization in the 1980s. Stapel and Emde of the Stiftung Berliner Mauer/Berlin Wall Foundation, will discuss the Foundation’s educational project “Mauergeschichten revisited: qualification of new guides.” This project seeks to confront the lack of acknowledgement of people of color and long discriminated communities, as well as their experiences with the fall of the Wall, in current exhibitions. In “Where are the people? Community Narratives and the Anthropology Museum in Shillong, India,” Lyngwa, a graduate from the Public History and Heritage Interpretation MA program at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, will analyse the Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures, an anthropological museum set up by a missionary organisation in Shillong, the capital city of the state of Meghalaya. She will explore the challenges of representing communities through objects behind glass shelves, while arguing for greater public participation and shared authority.

The final and fifth panel, “Post-conflict, Peace, and Reconciliation,” will include discussions of the place of museums in conflict and its consequences. Graham Black, a professor at Nottingham Trent University, asks: “can museums engage communities in conflict?” Can museums really make a difference to those communities and help bridge the chasm between them? What special qualities can museums bring to this role? He will explore these questions by examining a case study on Northern Ireland and the Ulster Museum. Chris Reynolds,  professor of Contemporary European History and Memory Studies at Nottingham Trent University, will also look at the Northern Ireland context, particularly on the example of one recent project on Northern Ireland’s 1968 (Voices of ‘68) and offers a reflection on the potency of combining oral history and agonistic memory, arguing that it can be used as a successful model for future work on the subject. Eduardo Briceño Florez, historian and political scientist from Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, poses: “can the use of technology in Colombian museums intervene in and help manage tensions inherent in a period of fragile peace-building?” He looks at the National Centre for Historical Memory (NCHM), which has an interesting history and place as museum, memorial, and governmental institution: building it has been affected by political polarisation.

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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