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Visions of Canada: Photographs and History in a Museum, 1921-1967


Visions of Canada: Photographs and History in a Museum, 1921-1967

McNabb, Heather (2015) Visions of Canada: Photographs and History in a Museum, 1921-1967. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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Visions of Canada: Photographs and History in a Museum, 1921-1967

Heather McNabb, PhD.

Concordia University, 2015

This dissertation is an exploration of the changing role of photographs used in the dissemination of history by a twentieth-century Canadian history museum. Based on archival research, the study focuses on some of the changes that occurred in museum practice over four and a half decades at Montreal’s McCord Museum. The McCord was in many ways typical of other small history museums of its time, and this work illuminates some of the transformations undergone by other similar organizations in an era of professionalization of many fields, including those of academic and public history.
Much has been written in recent scholarly literature on the subject of photographs and the past. Many of these works, however, have tended to examine the original context in which the photographic material was taken, as well as its initial use(s). Instead, this study takes as its starting point the way in which historic photographs were employed over time, after they had arrived within the space of the museum. Archival research for this dissertation suggests that photographs, initially considered useful primarily for reference purposes at the McCord Museum in the early twentieth century, gradually gained acceptance as historical objects to be exhibited in their own right, depicting specific moments from the past to visitors. By the early nineteen-sixties, after the arrival of a significant collection of historic photographs, and following the influence of major exhibitions of photography such as Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man, the  
perspective of museum staff had changed. In the wake of a Cold War rise in nationalism, and the enthusiasm of the years leading up to the centennial of Canadian Confederation, the historical photographs in this collection began to be used in ways that reflected some of the concerns of the present, connecting various audiences with issues of modernity, place, identity, and Canadian history.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > History
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:McNabb, Heather
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Date:31 August 2015
Thesis Supervisor(s):High, Steven
ID Code:980517
Deposited On:28 Oct 2015 12:21
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:51
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