Tension and conflict in Quebecois identity. Stereotyping of refugees. Discrimination of immigrants. Misrepresentation of aboriginals. Indigenous land claims.
These are some of the topics explored in the first-ever Capstone Seminar Series.
Certainly there is no shortage of journal articles written annually that touch on these very themes – the exploration is not new, and the Capstone Seminar Series does not suggest it is.
But what makes the Capstone Seminar Series different is its unique relevancy to the representations of our pasts and our current identities in the public consciousness – every paper is informed by what was seen by the individual authors as a missing narrative at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) in Gatineau, Quebec. Moreover, each of these papers is closely linked to a museum activity that the author developed and performed for museum visitors and staff at CMC.
The museum activities were simplified versions of what later became a developed academic analysis. But these activities were nonetheless anchored by a theme of missing narrative, displayed in a public institution for a public audience, while simultaneously playing a crucial role in the development of a scholarly work. The novelty of the Capstone Seminar Series is the seemingly organic process that occurred where public and academic representations of history worked together to inform one another. Students developed their museum activities while working on their academic papers. They were forced to be creative in determining how to scale a strong message into a three to five minute activity. The Capstone Seminar Series shows that public history and academic history need not be polarized, serving as strong reminder that a gap still does exist between informed debates taking place in academic circles and the history being consumed in public institutions by a mass audience.
And this gap needs to be filled for a very simple reason: public representations of history at institutions like the CMC are sometimes – others would say often – influenced by politics, where, for example, museums work under a mandate to reflect the celebratory aspects of a nation’s history which naturally excludes other relevant narratives. In many ways, the Capstone Seminar Series is a direct response to that. Certainly it will be the willingness of public institutions like the CMC that determines whether missing narratives will be displayed for a public audience. But by no means does this negate responsibility for those working in the academic world. Like the authors of the Capstone Seminar Series, others in the social sciences and humanities – particularly an up and coming generation of scholars – should never lose sight of the need to be creative and dynamic in developing strategies that can bring informed scholarship to the public in an accessible way, without compromising strong meaning and argumentation. The Capstone Seminar Series is just one way. There are certainly others.
The Capstone Series could only look at a small number of missing narratives at the CMC, but its focus raises questions about other narratives missing in public institutions: queer history, queer identities, disability, mental health, political affiliation and exclusion. These are simply a few examples, and the Capstone Seminar Series opens the door and serves as a template for how these issues can be explored in a meaningful and accessible way.