Museum Narrative

An Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past and European Centre for Cultural Exploration symposium

Location: Treehouse, Berwick-Saul Building, University of York

Time: Friday March 7th 2014, 1.30-4.30

All welcome!

This symposium will explore the forms that narrative takes in museums, how it differs from other forms of narrative, its spatial and textual modes, and its efficacy. It will consider how narratives may variously come together or cross-cut one another, and how they may substantiate or challenge narratives in other cultural domains. The symposium will include two presentations plus tea and discussion.

Sheila Watson (Senior Lecturer in the School of Museum studies, University of Leicester): Origins in national museums - how the nation is made and unmade through the exhibition process.

I will be looking at narratives in mainly European national museums, specifically at narratives of origins and the way they are used within museum, considering how certain themes recur time and again across Europe in different countries. I will also consider how museums can present different narratives of origin within the same building, as the nation appears to begin again at various times in the past. What does this tell us about the kind of histories museums make and how do they differ from narratives within written texts?

Geoff Cubitt (Reader in the Department of History, University of York): Museums and narratives: British museums and Transatlantic Slavery

This paper will use the concrete example of museum displays dealing with slavery and abolitionism to map a number of issues to do with narrativity in the museum setting – the ways in which exhibitions combine different narrative strands, the narrative functions of museum space, the relationships between the play of narratives within the museum and outside it. The main examples analysed with be the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool and the ‘Breaking the Chains ‘ exhibition mounted by the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum (then in Bristol) to mark the 2007 Bicentenary of the Act of Abolition of the Slave Trade.