What Makes a Museum National? National Identities at Community Museums

Ellen Chapman
International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, Newcastle University, Britain

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Ingår i: NaMu; Making National Museums Program; Setting the Frames; 26-28 February; Norrköping; Sweden

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 22:21, s. 237–245

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Publicerad: 2007-09-19


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


How can we understand and define the national museum concept? One broad definition is that a national museum is a state or government funded institution that plays an important role in shaping and mediating public discourses of national identities. This paper argues that national museums are not the only museum sites which address issues of national identity; contrary to what much of the existing literature on this topic suggests (Crooke 2000; Boswell and Evans 1999; McLean and Cooke 2003; Mason 2004). Local community based museums; often perceived as only addressing local and community identities (Karp; Kreamer and Lavine 1992); have the potential to engage with discourses of nationhood.

My doctoral research addresses the construction and representation of Welsh identity by a number of community museums in the United States; run by and for self-identifying Welsh Americans. This identification is commonly based upon possession of Welsh immigrant ancestors. While not funded by government nor possessing collections of national significance; these sites could be described as ‘national museums’ because they are engaged in the process of creating and narrating a sense of Wales; its national identity; history and culture. I argue that; while the national museum is a key site to study public discourses of national identity; the potential contribution of local and community museums to this discourse should also be considered.


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