Re: name of museum

Matthew Hill (mhill@WATARTS.UWATERLOO.CA)
Wed, 4 Jan 1995 16:35:59 -0500

On Wed, 4 Jan 1995, John Hoopes wrote: (following up on a posting of
Maureen Korp's)

> This raises another issue: Is "civilization" an exclusive and
> ethnocentric term? The Canadian Museum of Civilization/Musee Canadien
> des Civilisations undoubtedly contains a large amount of material that
> traditional scholarship would not interpret as pertaining to
> "civilizations" in the sense of stratified, hierarchical,
> politically-centralized, state societies. The museum's new name
> certainly implies that its central focus is "civilization," which some
> might interpret as colonialist, imperialist, and even more offensive in
> its connotations than "Museum of Man" ever was! When are we going to see
> a "Museum of People"?

Probably never, given current attitudes toward 'racism' and the excavation
of burials, however the focus of the museum in question is much more
'culture' than people. Part of the problem in this case comes from
the peculiarly Canadian necessity to produce a label which when rendered
in French and English both fits onto the stationery and has some obvious
similarity. Here, the preference was given to the French who have used
'civilisation' much in the way Boasians used 'culture'. Thus, "Les
civilisations du type Middle Stone Age" (Alimen-"Prehistoire de l'Afrique").
I suppose that using 'Museum of Culture' would have led to confusion with
the National Gallery - a bastion of 'high' culture.

Adrian Tanner, to the contrary notwithstanding, I have not noticed that
this change of name compromises the research conducted by the museum. Not
that there has been enough money for them to do much lately.

And, just to be picky, the Museum is not in Ottawa but across the river
in Hull, Quebec which ought to put some new weirdness into the
repatriation debate if Quebec ever really does separate.

Change Channel
> Here's a related question: Is "prehistoric" (when used to refer to
> human cultures) also ethnocentric and perjorative? I have a feeling the
> majority of anthropologists (if not archaeologists) would agree that
> a "history" does not have to be written down to be valid. Is it really
> fair to insist that non-literate peoples have no history until it is
> recorded by literate ones?

No, though I think that pejorative may not be the appropriate term. I
personally try to use the term 'documented' or 'documentary' rather than
'historic'. Written documentation would be still more accurate but
becomes cumbersome.

The first attempt to summarize world prehistory was perhaps Lubbock's
'Prehistoric Times'. That ended the era of predigested archaeology.