How Does the Canadian Museum of History Push Humanity Forward?

Yesterday I visited the Canadian Museum of History with my two children and it was a great way to keep them busy for a few hours. However, now that I have started focusing on the role every institution plays in human progress I was excited to see what I could come up with when I arrived back at my home.

First of all, a quick search of the About page on the museum website led me to the following two statements:

  • Mandate – “To enhance Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of events, experiences, people and objects that reflect and have shaped Canada’s history and identity, and also to enhance their awareness of world history and cultures.”
  • Mission – “Through its activities, the corporation practices museological excellence, thereby promoting a greater understanding of Canadian identity, history and culture. In addition to its presence within the National Capital Region, the corporation disseminates its knowledge throughout Canada and the world through its website, travelling exhibitions, conference participation, publications, social media, engagement activities and other forms of outreach.”

It seems that education is the primary mandate but I would say that it utilizes a different approach than the classroom. Museums immerse you in what you are learning about. You aren’t reading about it in a text book, you are experiencing the touch, sounds, and sight of the actual artifacts and events from our history. It is more costly but more effective. It has greater reach. It can be thought of as authentic, not from Wikipedia. Definitely not fake news.

Contrasting to the ministry of education the mission doesn’t involve helping Canadians become successful or economically productive. It is more likely that this dissemination of knowledge is more related to becoming an informed citizen and participant in our democracy. Of course it is important to stay apolitical as there is an undercurrent of consistency between leadership parties. No party would close certain museums and open others (not yet!) more aligned with their particular policies. I did notice some political hot topics during my visit as the IMAX film I saw weighed heavily into the discussion on Climate change and it’s impact on the north.

So how does the museum participate in progress? As I indicate in my 8 principles of progress knowledge is vital. But the type of knowledge acquired in a museum is more factual and informational rather than skill based. You will be better on jeopardy but not any better at designing the space shuttle.

The benefit of having everyone reading from the same playbook when it comes to our history creates a sense of unity. It levels the playing field and gives rise to healthy debate. Letting a respected establishment set the baseline for truth is especially necessary in a time when trust in our primary institutions is waning.

To let you in my personal process, it is at this point that I begin an unfiltered spewing of potential progress statements. To get a glimpse inside my brain here is what that looks like.

  • Foundation for facts
  • Democratic foundation of facts
  • The baseline of what is
  • Establish the baseline for truth
  • The launch pad of healthy debate
  • Common ground of truth
  • Exposure to encourage passions
  • Why is understanding our Canadian identity key
  • What it means to be Canadian, but in the spirit of progress can identity shift
  • The facts on display are a reflection of our relationship with our history
  • Aiming to display the complete story of our past to allow our most authentic future
  • Accepting who we are, is the first step in moving forward.
  • Telling the complete story of who we are sets us free to become who we are meant to be
  • Learning the Canadian Story is a gateway to a prosperous future
  • Telling the unfiltered Canadian story
  • A light on our past and a brighter future for Canadians

In understanding the museums perspective I am sure that they understand their role in the dissemination of information, but I don’t get the feeling they are conscious of that impact on the future. I finally landed on the statement below that informs the museum about it’s role in moving humanity forward.

“Illuminating the past, acknowledging the present, freeing the future”

Museums are a powerful force in maintaining one the key pillars of progress, knowledge. The ability to provide all Canadians access to the history of who we are, sets the stage for becoming, well, anything. And that is great news for everyone.

This is not implying that the story of us is being perfectly told. There will always be room for improvement as we learn more about our past, and as we gain the courage to accept our flaws. But getting an institution to fully understand the important role they play is a huge step forward.


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