“Bringing Our Stories Home:” Thinking through the Manitoba Museum

By Sylvia J. Dreaver**

As a child growing up in Manitoba, you were predestined to visit Winnipeg’s Museum of Man and Nature (since renamed the Manitoba Museum in 2002) with your school.

A rite of passage for many, I can recall arriving at the museum on a crowded yellow school bus, bag lunch in hand, chomping at the bit to see the “the boat”––an illustrious and larger than life display called the Nonsuch, a replica of a 53 ft. ship, said to be “instrumental in establishing commerce in the Western Canadian fur trade––one of the museum’s most notable attractions.”[1]

The Buffalo Hunt diorama (photo credit: Angela Failler)

History, more specifically Indigenous history, was at times hard for me to understand or relate to as a young Indigenous girl. Having been adopted into a white Mennonite family at a young age, I grew up without any knowledge of my culture or who I was as an Indigenous person. I often experienced feelings of wanting to be invisible, particularly during my Social Studies class. I would look ahead in the textbook to see if there were any mentions of “Indians” so that I could somehow prepare myself to “disappear” that day. As the only “Indian” in the majority of my grade school classes, I always felt as though the other students would compare these archaic depictions of Canada’s First Peoples, with me, the “real live Indian” sitting at the desk beside them. I remember experiencing similar feelings upon visiting the Manitoba Museum.


Entering the first gallery visitors are met with a monumental diorama called The Buffalo Hunt. The 51 ft. display depicts a waxy figure of a Plains Cree Indian, frozen in motion riding a painted horse with a gun in hand, galloping amongst a herd of life-sized taxidermied bison, three adult bison and one calf. Although generally known for his paintings, Canadian artist Clarence Tillenus created many dioramas throughout the 1950s and 60s for museums such as the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa as well as the Alberta Provincial museum in Edmonton. For the Manitoba Museum, he created five dioramas in total, including The Buffalo Hunt, featuring bison, polar bears, caribou, antelope, and moose.

As a student of museology and curatorial practices now at the university, I have come to learn that the use of dioramas to depict Indigenous history is problematic. Often displayed with fossils and/or taxidermied animals, these dioramas present Indigenous peoples as less than fully human and static––never evolving. The history of dioramas dates back to the 1890s when there was an idea to preserve what many anthropologists saw as a “vanishing race.” Dioramas were intended to tell stories of the past, seemingly a snapshot in time. [2]

The Manitoba Museum first opened its doors in 1970 in conjunction with the province’s Centennial celebrations. Still known to many by its old moniker, “Man and Nature,” it remains the axis of Manitoba history. Its mandate is to “preserve the heritage of Manitoba for present and future generations: to seek, acquire, and share knowledge of Manitoba’s history, culture, and natural world with Manitobans and others.”[3]

Having returned to this place of childhood memories recently, I found not much of its content had been updated. But as an adult, armed with knowledge of Indigenous material culture as well as the history of art and museology, my visit was a very different experience.

Text, text, and more text seemed to abound at every corner. The 70’s style typography revealed that much was unchanged from the inception of the museum. It was easy to see upon reading a panel about the Red River Settlement, that the information and language carefully walks a non-confrontational line regarding Canada’s history. This national and regional narrative, the one many of us grew up with, leaves out many truths that we now know today about the central role colonial violence played in settling this land.

Text at the Manitoba Museum of Red River Settlement Exhibit (photo credit: Sylvia J. Dreaver)

Labels and text panels in museum exhibits tend to reflect structures of temporality that reproduce specific and circumscribed cultural values. The Manitoba Museum is no exception. It continues to organize its displays according to chronology, which can be problematic when it comes to Indigenous representation. According to Ruth B. Phillips, historian of North American Indigenous art, this system tends to reinforce the idea that indigenous presence was a thing of the past, a precursor to a more highly evolved settler tradition.[4]

Chronologies have been known to recreate exclusion and cultural assumptions through conceptions of temporality through a Western lens, which links time with notions of civilization and progress. Phillips cites theorist Roland Barthes who explains the “comfort” this sort of reframing affords the (non-Indigenous) viewer.

He states “The pleasure of viewing will accordingly be those of repetition: the image will not interrupt; or break with comfortable familiarity of the already-known; it will belong to the same kind of vague, urbane, disengaged interest that is reserved for people, performances, clothes, books one finds ‘up to standard’…. it will quote, consolingly, the familiar, spatial, and temporal order of the world.”[5]

Detail of text panel at the Manitoba Museum (photo credit: Sylvia J. Dreaver)

As I ventured deeper into the walls of words, I came across a text panel that looked to be included in more recent years. Seven distinct Indigenous languages were used to describe the Northern Lights, such as “waawaate” in Ojibwe.

Amid beautiful Jackson Beardy murals is also a description of the “native worldview”  quoting Beardy from 1979. Beardy worked as an art advisor and cultural consultant to the museum, evidence that there had been at least a thought to bring an Indigenous voice in amongst the otherwise dominant and expansive settler narrative.

Another text, presumably more recent than the Beardy quote, references Indigenous mythology including creation stories from both the Cree and Ojibwe nations, such as Kitchi-Manitou, the Great Spirit. Although I found these descriptions to be somewhat simplified, I imagine they are intended for a “general” museum audience.

Another fascinating but contentious display is the renowned Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) collection that arrived at the Museum in 1994. According to the Museum’s website, the HBC began to acquire historical objects for display in 1920. Over the years its holdings grew from a few hundred objects to over 25,000 pieces. Since 1994, the descendants of fur trading families and other company employees have donated 500 more artifacts to the collection. Approximately one third of the artifacts originate from Canada’s First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people.[6]

The Manitoba Museum’s replica of Sir George Simpson’s London HBC office (photo credit: Lauren Bosc)

What can only be described as “booty,” the showpiece of the collection is a replica of Sir George Simpson’s London office. Simpson was Governor in Chief of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1820-1860.[7] My feelings about the HBC collection are decidedly mixed. As a student of history, being able to see items preserved and conserved is of great value, but as an Indigenous person I am aware of the complicated relationship between museums and First People. There is still much work to be done.

The Manitoba Museum is currently undergoing a 2.5 million dollar revitalization project, aptly named “Bringing Our Stories Home.” I am curious to see exactly which stories are brought home. Although I have given a few examples of how Indigenous voices have been included in the Museum’s existing content, they still read somewhat tokenistically.

Employing Indigenous museum theory, that radically rewrites the roles of museums and re-centers Indigenous knowledge, including how objects are treated and how Indigenous peoples and cultures are represented, would be a meaningful way to incorporate multi-vocality into this important space. I am grateful for the work of Manitoba Museum curators such as Maureen Matthews, who has begun to lead the way towards reconciliation with many Manitoba First Nations communities. She has worked tirelessly to mend relationships, and has made it her life’s work to tell the stories of each artifact in the museum to the best of her ability.

I am also hopeful about recommendation number 67 of the National Truth and Reconciliation Report that calls upon the Federal government and the Canadian Museums Association to undertake, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, a national review of museum policies and best practices.[8] Adhering to the TRC’s recommendation could begin a new era in the relationships between indigenous peoples and the museum. It is then that we might have a chance at truly “bringing our stories home.”

[1] https://manitobamuseum.ca/main/visit/museum-galleries/nonsuch-gallery/

[2] http://theappendix.net/issues/2014/7/the-passing-of-the-indians-behind-glass

[3] https://manitobamuseum.ca/main/about-us/vision-mission-values/

[4] Phillips, Ruth B.. McGill-Queen’s/Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation Studies in Art History : Museum Pieces : Toward the Indigenization of Canadian Museums. Montreal, CA: MQUP, 2011. Accessed February 6, 2017. ProQuest ebrary. p254

[5] Phillips, Ruth B.: Museum Pieces. p169

[6] https://manitobamuseum.ca/main/collections-research/manitoba-people/hbc-collection/

[7] http://www.hbcheritage.ca/hbcheritage/history/people/builders/simpson


** Sylvia J. Dreaver is Nēhiyawak and from the Mistawasis First Nation in Northern Saskatchewan. She completed her Bachelor of Arts Honours in Art History at the University of Winnipeg in 2017 and is currently a Master of Arts student in Cultural Studies at the University of Winnipeg. She is passionate about Indigenous Art and is committed to the advancement of curatorial research and art gallery practice when related to Indigenous art collections and associated history. She currently works as an Aboriginal Program Guide at the Canadian Museum For Human Rights, working on a specialized Indigenous tour. Her areas of interest lie in gallery education, museology and Canadian cultural policy, Indigenous art and curatorial practices/perspectives within cultural institutions.


Food for Thought: Mediating Immigration Histories through Artifact and Technology

By Noor Bhangu**

Model of Pier 21, located at the beginning of “The Pier 21 Story.” Photo credit: Lauren Bosc

I was recently invited as a Research Assistant to participate in a workshop on Re-thinking the Museum through Collaboration and Community-Based Curatorial Practices. The workshop took place in Halifax, Nova Scotia from April 24-26, 2017, and brought together graduate students, professors, museum workers, and local community members. As part of the workshop, we attended a guided tour of The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. The museum is located in a section of Pier 21, historically used as a dock and one of the few sheds on the East Coast to process immigrants to Canada from 1928 and 1971. Opened as a public museum on Canada Day, 1999, the site was described by Jean Chrétien, then Prime Minister of Canada, as a monument to the people of Pier 21, who by joining the Canadian family became the “envy of the world today.”[i] It was not until 2009 (and Stephen Harper’s conservative ministry) that the museum was established as a new Crown corporation and re-designated a national museum, whereupon it was also asked to articulate the broader story of immigration to Canada, extending beyond the history of the people processes at Pier 21.[ii] The museum reopened its doors to the public in June 2015, following a six month long, $30 million expansion.[iii] “The Pier 21 Story,” its main permanent exhibition, was updated and revised while a new exhibit, the “Canadian Immigration Story,” was added to accommodate for the other (previously unrepresented) immigrants who, according to Bob Moody, the CEO of Pier 21 Society, transformed Canada into a “country of immigrants.”[iv]


Remarkably, these administrative revisions and extensions of the past two decades are still visible in the two-storeyed structure, which struggles to make space for contemporary demands while still seeing itself as monument for a specific past. The first floor houses temporary exhibitions, such as “Canada: Day 1” and “Mosaic: Identity and Community Connection,” and the second floor holds the permanent exhibitions, “The Pier 21 Story” and “Canadian Immigration Story.” Our group’s visit began on the second level through the permanent exhibitions, and finished with a shorter wander through the temporary exhibitions on the first floor. Regardless of the direction chosen at the beginning of the visit, the museum projects feelings of nostalgia and hope upon its visitors. These feelings are mediated through the tone of the didactic panels, the reliance on sentimental artefacts in some parts of the exhibition, or even in basic timelines set up in an attempt to enclose disparate historical events within a one-directional narrative. Nostalgia for a shared past and hope for progress are evoked, perhaps, in a desire to mitigate and move away from difficult stories, which don’t celebrate but challenge the idealized history of immigration in Canada.

View of the Atlantic Ocean from Pier 21. Photo credit: Lauren Bosc.

Our hour-long guided tour of “The Pier 21 Story” began with us peering down at a glass-encased model of the pier, with the guide pointing out the historical significance of each section and its correspondence to galleries within the exhibition. Following a brief introduction of the history of this space, we moved to an open room revealing the terrifyingly cold and blue Atlantic Ocean outside. The quick aesthetic shift between the miniature model and the open room alerted me to the historic monumentality of the ocean, which alongside the architecture remains one of the features connecting the past with the present. Floor-length windows had been installed in the museum to provide panoramic access to the landscape while keeping the visitors at a seemingly comfortable distance from the world outside. Standing close to the windows, I tried to imaginatively locate the former site of Africville or the Mi’kmaq settlement of Turtle Grove, sites I knew we would be visiting over the course of our workshop. The guide took me out of my reverie by returning to a time when this bleak corridor of the pier served as the first bit of Canadian “land” touched by the recent arrivals, some of whom, she joked, were ready to return after their initial exposure to the Canadian weather. As we know, countless migrants were rejected in the process of immigration and had to endure arduous journeys back to their countries of origin from these and other docks. The reasons for their returning had little to do with their trouble with the weather and more to do with the nation’s trouble with them as people.

Besides the museum’s proximity to the ocean, the architecture itself is used to legitimate the dominance of the permanent exhibition “The Pier 21 Story” (read between the lines as the white immigration story). In his paper, “Grounds for Exclusion: Canada’s Pier 21 and its Shadow Archive,” Jay Dolmage cites Gareth Hoskins when he writes that, “the very architecture of the museum is the key artifact.”[v] According to our guide, many of the museum’s collected stories are not located in this introductory exhibition because they are not directly connected to the architecture of this building. Architectural and historical relevance become a convenient way to not speak of the troubled histories of Canada’s past, which include the erasure of Indigenous communities, the displacement of black Canadian communities, and the turning away of my own Sikh people aboard the Komagata Maru, whose stories I’m assured are kept elsewhere in the museum. Rather than opening up conversation about these troubled histories, we are told about the charming arrival stories of Europeans, at least those that were not excluded for being of the, “dark type and poor physique.”[vi]

Lagging behind the group, I catch snippets of the next story, which is about some travellers illegally bringing in various wines and meats, hidden in their pants and hats and hairdos, in an effort to prepare for the foreign tastes of the new country.[vii] We are led to a fantastic display of sausages, bursting out of their plastic containers. These colourful meats, alongside the narratives embedded in them, are difficult for me to digest as I vividly recall my own food history. During our first years in Canada, between ages 10 and 12, my mother used to pack potato paranthas with some mango pickle for my lunch, a typical, if not boring, meal for my brother and I when we attended school in Punjab, India. Some days, I felt, it was easier to suppress the smell of cold paranthas and go hungry than entertain the looks of annoyance from my peers, who didn’t have the capacity to feign curiosity beyond our first few weeks as foreign children. Stacks of paranthas and jars of pickle were not taken out of our suitcases when we arrived in Canada, instead, these symbols of difference made us vulnerable to exclusion after we had already entered the country. The museum’s interpretation of arrival stories fails to recognize that the censorship of diversity, in taste or skin colour, moves beyond the initial encounters of immigration processing and into real life experiences of immigrants.

Interactive timeline from the “Canadian Immigration Story.” Photo credit: Lauren Bosc.

Following this feeling of indigestion, I began to look forward to exploring other exhibitions in the museum that we were promised contained different and more contemporary stories.Our guide left us in the first room of the “Canadian Immigration Story,” where a large interactive timeline was set up to take the visitor through various years, starting around the 13th century. Each year briefly articulated the historical context and laws that were passed or the nationalities of the incoming immigrants of the year, while some years went so far as to comment on the presence/absence of Indigenous people in relation to the new immigrants. When it was my turn, I touched the timeline to bring up 2003, the year when my own family entered Canada through the Vancouver International Airport. Colourful lines jumped across the screen, connecting Canada with other parts of the world. After a few minutes of mute staring, I realized that there was not much for me to take in. The screen merely held arrows, dates, and a generalization of the immigrant experience in the 21st century.

New museums like Pier 21, also known as 21st century museums, are shifting in the content they present as well as the medium of presentation in hopes that diverse people will look to the museum as a space for dialogue and representation. In her book, New Museum Theory and Practice, Janet Marstine problematizes the shift of wanting to “accommodate different experiences” for different audiences in the shared space of the museum by locating it in the museums’ desire to “fulfill their role as the guardians of the [narratives].”[viii] Even as museums begin to make space for different communities and difficult histories, they still hold on to their right to author and direct these narratives.

In theory, the technological engagement of the new interactive displays should allow for the multidirectional learning experience that the Pier 21 story attempts to create. The flatness of plastic sausages and early European immigration narratives is exchanged for open networks. The machines, with their multiple screens, histories and personal stories, assumingly give the audience the power to search and construct their own meanings. The task of educating is transported from the museum to the audience, suggesting that it is now up to them to carry out the difficult work of learning. And the work can be difficult. How can we decide which story to listen to, and for how long before moving on to the next station? But how much agency does the storyteller or museum visitor really have if the stations are radiating around the dominant, teleological narrative of the timeline? The “Canadian Immigration Story,” has two large timelines, one that is interactive and one that is static. Here the museum tries to make up for its lack by pooling together diverse stories and encouraging us, the visitors, to make inspired connections. But, in the end, we are left to straddle this ideological and technological separation between the museum’s two permanent exhibitions.

During our group’s visit, a number of local participants remarked on the changes in the museum’s physical appearance since they had seen it last. Compared to its older model, the newly renovated and expanded museum was much bigger and held a lot more content. After exploring the second exhibition and many of its small interactive stations, I began to understand that this newly constructed gallery was no more than a storehouse of compensatory narratives and new technologies. Bigger is not always better, especially when we consider the stories of immigrant women trying to stuff their hair with pungent meats. Rather than expanding around dominant narratives, museums would do better to re-think and re-present stories that are already there in the shadow archives, if they really care to live up to their aspirations to present the diverse histories of Canadians, including immigration experiences.

[i] Colleen Jones. “Halifax celebrates gateway to Canada, Pier 21.” CBC News. July 01, 1999. Accessed May 17, 2017. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/halifax-celebrates-gateway-to-canada-pier-21-1.175078.

[ii] See: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/AnnualStatutes/2010_7/page-1.html

[iii] Melanie Patten. “Halifax’s Pier 21 uses new technology to tell historic immigration tales.” National Post. November 2, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2017. http://news.nationalpost.com/life/travel/halifaxs-pier-21-uses-new-technology-to-tell-historic-immigration-tales.

[iv] “A National Museum of Immigration to be formed at Pier 21!” Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Accessed May 18, 2017. https://www.pier21.ca/about/national-museum-of-immigration-at-pier-21.

[v] Jay Dolmage. “Grounds for Exclusion: Canada’s Pier 21 and It’s Shadow Archive.” In Diverse Spaces : Identity, Heritage and Community in Canadian Public Culture, edited by Susan L. T. Ashley, 100-21. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013. p. 104.

[vi] Ibid., 109.

[vii] “The Pier 21 Story,” heavily relied on artifacts and replicas to thread together the histories and experiences of people who came through Pier 21. Artefacts were placed under glass, while the replicas were openly displayed to captivate the visitor and animate a romantic past.

[viii] Janet Marstine. New Museum Theory and Practice: An Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005. p. 102.


**Noor Bhangu received her Bachelor of Arts in History of Art from University of Winnipeg, where she is currently working on her Master of Arts in Cultural Studies: Curatorial Practices. She focuses primarily on South East Asian, Central Asian and Middle-Eastern artists who interrogate gender, religion and diaspora in their work. After the completion of this program, she intends to pursue a PhD in contemporary Islamic Art.


“My museum, a museum about me: or, who owns the legacy of the Polish village?”

(event poster)

On June 27, 2017, Dr. Erica Lehrer will participate in an action to “hack” the Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Krakow. As a supervisor to students leading the project, Dr. Lehrer and the group will use a rattle to lead visitors through the course of the museum hack. It will be passed from hand to hand to make noise – a aural symbol of their “intervention.” Rattles are instruments present in many cultures, a ritual noisemaker used in ceremonies. People often forget that in multicultural villages objects were often passed from one community to another, crossing cultural boundaries and blurring them in the process. Christians used rattles during Holy Week, and Jews used them on Purim (a grager in Yiddish). They plan to use the rattle to symbolize openness to diversity, to work against fantasies of cultural purity, and to recall Poland’s multicultural community.

The project uses the museum as a space of reflection about the contemporary identity (or identities) of those people whose origins lie in the Polish countryside. If this is a “museum about me,” can I find my roots here? Can you? What might be missing in this museum? Or what prevents us from feeling a connection between who we are, and the people and culture on display?

More information about the action and project can be found on facebook and on the museum’s website.


Dr. Failler Co-Edits New Volume on 1985 Air India Bombing

Thinking through the Museum is pleased to congratulate Dr. Angela Failler on the publication of Remembering Air India: The Art of Public Mourning (University of Alberta Press), a new volume co-edited with Drs Chandrima Chakraborty and Amber Dean (McMaster University).

The volume’s synopsis reads: “On June 23, 1985, the bombing of Air India Flight 182 killed 329 people, most of them Canadians. Today this pivotal event in Canada’s history is hazily remembered, yet certain interests have shaped how the tragedy is woven into public memory, and even exploited to advance a strategic national narrative. This collection investigates the Air India bombing and its implications for current debates about racism, terrorism, and citizenship.”

Remembering Air India has already gained the attention of notable commentators including Bob Rae who has written a review of it for the Literary Review of Canada. Rae, former premier of Ontario (now lawyer and distinguished professor at the University of Toronto), authored an influential report on the Air India bombings in 2005 while serving as Advisor to the Minister of Public Safety Canada. Of Failler et al.’s volume he observes, “The book is filled with impressive arguments…and thoughtful recollections and analysis that bridges the gap between scholarship and lived experience,” adding, “Let it be the beginning of a reckoning and a reconciliation, not the end of the story.”  

Failler, who has been working on the topic for over a decade, says that the innovation of this collaborative effort lies in how it “draws together academic analysis, testimony, visual arts, and creative writing, tendering a new public record of the bombing, one that shows how important creative responses are for deepening our understanding of the event and its aftermath.”

The collection also includes contributions from Uma Parameswaran, Cassel Busse, Chandrima Chakraborty, Amber Dean, Rita Kaur Dhamoon, Teresa Hubel, Suvir Kaul, Elan Marchinko, Eisha Marjara, Bharati Mukherjee, Lata Pada, Sherene H. Razack, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Maya Seshia, Karen Sharma, Deon Venter, and Padma Viswanathan.

More information about the collection can be found on the University of Alberta Press website.


Museum Queeries Project Organizes Inaugural Workshop

Ryan Rice delivers a keynote lecture at the Museum Queeries workshop

Ryan Rice delivers a keynote lecture at the Museum Queeries workshop (photo credit: Lauren Bosc)

June 2-4, 2017 –– The Museum Queeries project launched this summer with a workshop on “Museum Queeries and Curatorial Dreaming,” hosted at UWinnipeg and coinciding with Winnipeg’s Pride Week. Organized by Dr. Heather Milne and Dr. Angela Failler, it was facilitated by Dr. Shelley Ruth Butler (McGill) and provided an opportunity for members of our Museum Queeries research network to connect in person for the first time as we hail from across Canada, the United States, and Australia. The overall goal of the proposed workshop was to connect members of our newly formed Museum Queeries research network, and translate specific objectives into tangible strategies for engaging museums on 2S+LGBTTQ issues.The following key questions framed this work:

*How are museums implicated in the ongoing struggle for 2S+LGBTTQ rights?
*How have 2S+LGBTTQ issues been integrated within the curatorial and programming mandates of museums?
*What kinds of alliances might be formed at the nexus of queer and indigenous/decolonial activism in relation to museums?
*What kinds of productive exchanges might occur at the intersection of queer and antiracist activism in the context of museums?
*How might we, as academics, activists, curators, artists, community stakeholders, and students, work collaboratively with museums to (re)conceive of them as queer spaces?

The workshop included a field trip to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) for one of its “Pride Tours,” a site visit to the Winnipeg Pride festival grounds located next to the CMHR, as well as a curatorial dreaming exercise led by Dr. Butler to attempt to reimagine queer content in the context of the CMHR. The intent was thus not simply to critique museums, but rather to engage and potentially collaborate with them by proposing ways in which they might more effectively address 2S+LGBTTQ issues.

The workshop was funding by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Research Manitoba, and the University of Winnipeg.

For more information on the Museum Queeries project, visit museumqueeries.org.


Dr. Patterson named Carleton’s Assistant Director of Curatorial Studies

In their announcement of two new graduate diplomas in Curatorial Studies, Dr. Monica Patterson was named as the Assistant Director of the program at Carleton University.

In the new program’s two-semester core course, students will learn about a range of contemporary and historical issues related to curatorial theory and practice. Through rigorous analysis of major critical texts, theories and debates, students will explore topics including philosophies of collecting; the history of the museum; questions of aesthetics, value and authenticity; memorialization; the colonial legacies of curatorial practices; and the challenges and possibilities of decolonization.

Through their critique and their practice, Patterson argues, curators have the potential to not only represent, but also inform, social attitudes, public opinion and political debates.

In addition, to support the new program, Carleton University and the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) have signed a letter of agreement. This formal partnership between a national museum or gallery and a university is the first of its kind in Canada.

For more information on this new program, visit Carleton’s website here.


International Graduate Field School hosted at Concordia University

From May 25-27, 2017, the Thinking through the Museum research team facilitated and participated in an International Graduate Field School in Critical Museology at Concordia University.

Directed by The Canada Research Chair in Museum and Heritage Studies, Dr. Erica Lehrer, the Field School in Critical Museology exposed students to the most current approaches to critical museology theory and practice: from decolonizing, human rights, digital, and children’s museology to the treatment of “difficult knowledge” with innovative curatorial and pedagogical approaches. Academics in the field delivered study units that addressed current issues, challenges, and areas of innovation in Canadian and international museums. These units were complemented with guided “behind the scenes” field-study visits to Montreal museums.

The Summer Field School, hosted at Concordia’s Curating and Public Scholarship Lab (capsl.cerev.ca) aimed to build an international network of peers in this growing, interdisciplinary field. As part of this year’s course, students designed and presented their own “curatorial dream” to an international, specialist audience during the inaugural “Museum Anthropology Futures” conference at Concordia (May 25-27, 2017).



Dr. Erica Lehrer organizes Museum Anthropology Futures Conference

From May 25 to 27, more than 100 diverse experts in the field are congregating at Concordia University to examine these questions and many others at the US-based Council for Museum Anthropology’s inaugural Museum Anthropology Futures conference.

Learn more about the association’s first conference here.


Dr. Failler, with Dr. Heather Milne, awarded Connection Grant for Museum Queeries

Dr. Heather Milne (English) and Dr. Angela Failler (Women’s and Gender Studies) have been awarded over $22,000 to support the workshop Museum Queeries: Intersectional Interventions into Museum Cultures and Practices. This funding comes from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connection Grant and the Manitoba Research Connections Program.

The invite only workshop will be hosted at UWinnipeg this June to coincide with Winnipeg’s Pride Week and includes a site visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR).

As Dr. Milne explains, “The overall goal of the workshop is to connect members of our newly formed Museum Queeries research network, and translate specific objectives into tangible strategies for engaging museums on 2S+LGBTTQ issues. We use an intersectional approach to think through ways in which gender, sexuality, race, class, ability, religion, ethnicity, and national identities are inter-implicated in museums and in museumgoers’ points of contact with museums. This workshop will be the first time our research team, which hails from across Canada, the U.S., and Australia, will come together to begin these important discussions.”

This innovative project brings together two significant fields in cultural studies. According to Dr. Milne, “to date, there has been very little research that engages with 2S+LGBTTQ issues within the field of museum studies. It is an emerging field of scholarship.”

For more information on this project, visit museumqueeries.org.


TTTM Research Team speaks at International Conference in Poland


Panelists for the Thinking through the Museum: Difficult Knowledge in Public presentation (Warsaw, Poland; March 13, 2017)

Thinking through the Museum research team members and collaborators closed the momentus “Museums and their Publics at Sites of Conflicted History” international conference in Warsaw, Poland (March 13-15, 2017). The conference explored the role of museums in negotiating new public histories in societies in transition; of special interest was how the historical narratives constructed in museums help to shape new social relations in a dynamically changing present.

Drs. Angela Failler, Heather Igloliorte, Erica Lehrer, and Monica Patterson participated in the conference’s many roundtable and panel discussions, finishing with a panel of their own titled “Thinking through the Museum: Difficult Knowledge in Public.” This panel, which also invited collaborators Dr. Shelley Ruth Butler (McGill University), Hanna Radziejowska (Warsaw Uprising Museum, the Dom Spotkan z Historia [“House of Meetings with History”], Museum of the City of Warsaw), Magdalena Zych (Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum), and Aleksandra Janus (Jagiellonian University), asked the questions:

Can museum institutions question cherished collective myths of heroism and tolerance? To what extent can they be self-critical, and how? What progressive social, political, and educational functions can such museums serve? And most interesting for our research: what roles can scholars, activists, artists, and citizens play in holding these institutions to their highest stated mandates, or even expandingthem? This includes not only their content or modes of representation, but the construction of their audiences. Who are audiences imagined (and encouraged) by museum practitioners to be, and what are these visitors allowed and expected to do? 

The presentation is available for viewing on the conference’s website here.