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The CHA President addresses the Senate Committee
on Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Dominique Marshall was asked to comment at the second reading of the Bill C-7 Bill to Amend the Museum Act on December 4, 2013.

Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Bill C-7 Bill to Amend the Museum Act– Second Reading

Opening statement
Canadian Historical Association

Dr. Dominique Marshall, President

Ottawa, 4 December 2013


Senators, Thank you for your invitation to comment on the bill to amend the Canadian Museum Act. 

Mandate of the Canadian Historical Association: The CHA represents Canada’s professional historians, since 1922.  It is devoted to fostering the scholarly study, teaching and communication of history in Canada. With more than 1000 members, it is the largest association of historians in the country. We are vitally interested in the legal changes to the Museums Act related to the Canadian Museum of Civilization and we welcome the creation of a network of exchange of artifacts.[1] 

Discussion:

Four aspects of the amendment to the Museum Act under review concern our members:

1. The important transformation from a Canadian Museum of Civilization to a Canadian Museum of History indicates a narrowing of the period about which the institution will present, collect and study material from the past.  Written this way, the bill presents “History” as starting with written document and the 13 000 years old “pre-history” might not now receive the same degree of recognition, which are accessible through archaeological, anthropological, and oral documents.

2. We are concerned that the world outside of Canada needs to receive as much attention as it formerly did.  The CHA represents scholars in all geographical fields of history, and we deplore the narrowing of the mandate to fostering Canadian citizens’ knowledge of the history of this country alone. 

-The new name which includes Canada and History but no more Civilization points to such a restriction.

-Section 2 of the Bill which amends the “Purpose” for the Museum (article  8)

deletes references to international audiences,

-and deletes the mandate of developing a collection “not [in] exclusive reference to Canada.” 

-The words “World history and cultures” only appear at the end of the article, as an addition to “Canada’s history and identity” whereas the words “human achievements and behavior” were at the centre of the mandate in the current version.

3. The revised mandate of the Museum as provided in the Bill does not require that material presented to the visitors will encourage a critical understanding of the past.   The same section 8 on the purpose of the Museum, withdraws the words: to “increase … critical understanding” of the past.  The CHA believes that critical understanding should be a goal of all museums: they should encourage visitors to consider multiple perspectives of the past, and multiple approaches of the past in the present.  They should present texts and displays that challenge master narratives, and pay justice to the variety of the populations of the past, rather than simply venerating national heroes and powerful actors.

4. The CHA is concerned by the deletion of the very words which assured the maintenance of the standards of the discipline, and the curatorial autonomy of the historians and other professionals of the past at the employ of the museum.  Their professional obligation to respect the diversity of approaches to history, and the groups that have composed the societies of the past needs to be guaranteed.

- Clause 2 of Bill C-7 amends section 8 of the Museum Act on the purpose of the new Canadian Museum of History by withdrawing its role to “increase … critical understanding” of the past.  The CHA is worried by the deletion of the word “critical.” “Critical,” in this context, does not mean “given to adverse or unfavourable criticism,” but rather “involving or exercising careful judgment or observation.”[2] Such a stance is crucial for the conduct of the type of scholarly work, which to this day has guided the work professionals of this national museum, in line with the CHA’s “commitment to free and open inquiry, adhering to the ideal of academic freedom.”

-Other deletions from article 8 and the mandate announce a similar direction: the methods of the museum’s work have been withdrawn, that is to say “the establishment, maintenance and development for research and posterity [of] a collection of objects of historical or cultural interest.”  (Article 9 a) and b) mention collection and documentation but not research.) 

-By deleting parts of item (f) from the “Capacity and powers” of the Museum (article 9), the Bill does not state that research will continue to be performed and encouragedNor does it state how research at the museum is defined.   The withdrawal of the following words weakens the future status of independent and scholarly work. I cite them:  “to undertake and sponsor any research, including fundamental or basic research and theoretical and applied research, related to its purpose and to museology, and communicate the results of that research.”  This change goes against our members’ core value: “our openness to hear, with respect, divergent interpretations and views, even as we subject those interpretations to critical scrutiny.”

Recommendation

The CHA respectfully asks the Senate to consider the deletion of parts of article 9 paragraph f, and to reconsider the changes in the mandate of the museum expressed in article 8, as well as the change of the name of the museum.


[1] CHA, “Statement on Research Ethics,” http://www.cha-shc.ca/?lid=WVJBJ-WNEB5-USA7E  .  See also the letter of our President to the President of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, December 3 2012, http://www.cha-shc.ca/english/advocacy/the-cha-president-writes-to-the-president-of-the-canadian-museum-of-civilization.html

[2] Oxford English Dictionary Online, Consulted December 3, 2013.

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