Re-branding the Canadian Museum of Civilization

Today’s announcement regarding upcoming brand changes to the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) speaks to a change in how history is interpreted at Canada’s federal museums.  As my recent post on National Conceptions of History in Museum Settings noted, the CMC has never been a museum focused solely on the history of Canada.  Rather, the CMC has always had an anthropological focus and many of the blockbuster style exhibits that are at the CMC focus on the history of cultures outside of Canada.

This re-branding is to coincide with the 150th anniversary of confederation which will occur in 2017.  It has been noted that exhibits will predominately focus on the monarchy, major milestones, and military history of Canada.  Considering Ottawa is already home to the Canadian War Museum, this focus on military history seems a bit strange.

The proposed changes see the CMC being renamed as a Canadian Museum of History and refocusing the content of the museum to more Canadian topics.  Some CMC staff have expressed concerned about the potential that “Canadian history stories that will be the subject of research and exhibitions will be identified by politicians across the Ottawa River rather than the museum’s own experts.” [1]  The CMC currently operates under its own independent mandate without the influence of political forces.  It will be interesting to see if the objectivity and freedom of interpretation remains in this new incarnation of the museum.

The actual announcement occurred after speculation, cries of politicization and complaints were running wild throughout the media and twitterverse.  The remarks of Heritage Minister James Moore and Museum president Mark O’Neill attempted to address some of these concerns.  O’Neil maintained that the museum would continue to host international exhibits.  Some of these international exhibits will be housed in the space that is presently home to the Canadian Postal Museum.  The current re-branding plan includes the dismantling of the postal museum, with it’s contents possibly being relocated. This relocation may be part of the new plan to link Canada’s network of museums with the Canadian Museum of History, with the aim of increasing accessibility.

All potential political motivations aside, the Museum of History is seeking input from Canadians about the content of the new museum.  By the looks of the new “My History Museum” site the CMC will be holding online and in person consultations about defining Canadian moments, important arfitcats, and influential Canadians.  I like the idea of crowdsourcing aspects of museum exhibits, and ideally this crowdsourcing venture will be paired withed strong curatorial insight.

It will be interesting to see how the $25 million dollar re-branding and renovation project unfolds.  I’m sure there are Canadians on both sides of the argument — some wishing to see a more Smithsonian National History style museum and others wishing to keep the CMC in it’s current state. Personally, I really hope this process allows for great attention to be paid to Canada’s diverse past, including the history of Canada’s Indigenous peoples and residential schools.  Though, I suppose if nothing else, the publicity surrounding the re-branding has the potential to draw attention to history education, museums, and the public history field in Canada. 

New Year Heritage Links

Lots of heritage and public history on goings this week.  Some of the stories that caught my attention:

  • In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg recently broadcasted five episodes dedicated to the development of written word and how the word has shaped our intellectual history.  The podcasts are well worth a listen and include detailed descriptions of a number of artifacts held by the British Library. 
  • The US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) released the Citizen Archivist Dashboard project.  This digital initiative aims to use crowdsourcing to transcribe, tag, edit, and upload photographs to the NARA collection.  The crowdsouring exercises are framed as challenges as means of encouraging user participation, and are overall visually appealing and simple to follow. 
  • The year’s first #builtheritage twitter chat took place on Wednesday January 4th.  The transcript will be available online in the near future. 
  • The Thinking About Exhibits blog featured a great post on applications that focus on museum objects. 

Entirely Virtual: The Museum of Afghan Civilization


The Museum of Afghan Civilization is scheduled to make it’s debut in 2010. This museum is going to be completely virtual. Online exhibits are nothing new, but the idea of creating an online building to house these online exhibits is fairly novel.

The Museum of Afghan Civilization employed an architect, museum professionals, and artists, to design and assist in the creation of the virtual museum. Users will be presented with the museum against it’s virtual background the Bamiyan caves. Users will be able to view the ‘outside’ of the museum from all angles, in an attempt to make it more realistic.

The proposed interface of the museum is designed to emulate an actual museum visit. Various multimedia ‘pavilions’ will exist for users to explore. The pavilion’s interfaces will change based on which exhibits are being featured, similar to physical temporary exhibition spaces.

The virtual museum will feature images from various existing institutions, including MOMA and the Louvre. The museum also plans on featuring images of works which have been destroyed or disappeared in recent years. There is also thoughts of eventually asking Afghan citizens for contributions of photos of their own culture.

There is hope that eventually a physical version museum of Afghan culture will exist. In face of the current instability of the area, this virtual museum allows for Afghanistan’s culture to be displayed without placing physical objects in danger.

I am looking forward to seeing the finished product of this venture, and feel that it is yet another step toward the further integration of technology and heritage. The notion of an entirely virtual museum also leaves me with the question: Are physical exhibit spaces necessary to call something a museum? The name of this virtual institution the “Museum of Afghan Civilization” suggests otherwise.

Is three really a crowd?

For our digital history class this week we are discussing mashups and collective intelligence. The article by Jeff Howe focused on a variety of industries which have moved to outsourcing their work to the general public, aka ‘crowdsourcing.’ Howe mentions iStockphoto which features amateur photography for cheap, ifilm which is no longer in existence, but was fairly similar to youtube and included an archive of viral videos, and InnoCentive which outsources research and development to ‘average’ people.

In addition to the companies using crowdsourcing mentioned in Howe’s work, there are numerous other industries and companies which are based on this technique. One of the most common ones is reCAPTCHA. You know every time a site asks to type in something to prove you aren’t a bot? That is reCAPTCHA, and your entry is used to help digitize information. Similarly, wikipedia is sometimes called a crowdsourcing project as it relies primarily on the information of the general public.

A couple of more interesting uses of crowdsourcing include Galaxy Zoo and Zeros 2 Heroes. Galaxy Zoo is an attempt to classify various types of galaxies, and is based primarily in the work of volunteers who interact with the project through the web. Zeros 2 Heroes is a Canadian site that features comic books and graphic novels by aspiring artists, in the hope that these works will eventually be picked up by mainstream media. The site also includes a community section which holds blogs, message boards, and allows for users to use open source tools for users to create their comics in.

The idea behind all these sites is very similar to the open source concept we have been discussing since September. They have the ability to make information more accessible, affordable, and provide exposure to amateur artists or work for ‘average’ people. The accessibility and affordability is something which we keep on coming back to, and is one of the main advantages of using digital technologies.