Performing Historical Narrative at the Canadian War Museum: Space, Objects and Bodies as Performers

Title: Performing Historical Narrative at the Canadian War Museum: Space, Objects and Bodies as Performers
Authors: Beattie, Ashlee E.
Date: 2011
Abstract: This thesis explores the symmetry between theatres and museums, and investigates how a museum experience is similar to a theatrical event. Particularly, this project examines how the Canadian War Museum performs historical narrative through its use of three performative elements of a theatre production: space, objects and actor’s body. Firstly, this thesis analyses how creating a historical narrative is similar to fiction writing and play writing. It follows the argument of Hayden White and Michel de Certeau who recognize a historical narrative as a performative act. Accordingly, this thesis examines the First World War exhibit at the Canadian War Museum as a space of performance. I apply Lubomír Doležel’s literary theory on possible worlds, illustrating how a museum space can create unique characteristics of a possible world of fiction and of history. Secondly, this thesis employs Marie-Laure Ryan’s theory of narrativity to discuss how museum objects construct and perform their stories. I argue that the objects in museums are presented to the public in a state of museality similar to the condition of theatricality in a theatre performance. Lastly, this thesis investigates the performance of people by applying various theories of performance, such as Michael Kirby’s non-acting/acting continuum, Jiří Veltruský’s concept of the stage figure, and Freddie Rokem’s theories of actors as “hyper-historians.” In this way, this thesis explores concrete case studies of employee/visitor interactions and expands on how these communications transform the people within the walls of the museum into performers of historical narrative. Moreover, according to Antoine Prost, the museum as an institution is an educational and cultural authority. As a result, in all of these performative situations, the Canadian War Museum presents a historical narrative to its visitors with which it can help shape a sense of national identity, the events Canadians choose to commemorate and their personal and/or collective memories. In its interdisciplinary scope, this thesis calls upon theories from a variety of academic fields, such as performance studies, history and cultural studies, museology, and literary studies. Most importantly, however, this project offers a new perspective on the performative potentials of a national history museum.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -
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