Warping Narrative: Historical Representation at the War Museum
Museums shape and augment the cultural memories and historical experiences of their visitors. They are institutions charged with authority and emotion, and because of this, have the power to influence the formation of national identities. This paper examines a specific type of museal institution, the war museum, to understand how historical narratives are presented and why they are especially effective institutions for provoking historical consciousness. Objects, displays, and dioramas within two example institutions (the Imperial War Museum in London and the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa) serve to represent soldiers' and civilians' wartime experiences. The Imperial War Museum has traditionally emphasized a narrative of national sacrifice rather than military glory, while the Canadian War Museum has used its galleries to create a narrative describing Canada as a distinct nation forged "in the fire of battle." However, these narratives are not immutable. Without adapting to the changing expectations of their visitors, war museums risk losing their status as 'sites of transformation' to instead become sites of stagnation.
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