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

Type of resource
Visions of Canada: Photographs and History in a Museum, 1921-1967
The author explores the changing role of photographs used in the dissemination of history by Montreal's McCord Museum between 1921 and 1967. Based on archival research, she focuses on some of the changes that occurred in museum practice over the four and a half decades at the McCord. She points out that the McCord was in many ways typical of other small history museums of its time, and her 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 of the scholarly literature on the subject of photographs and the past tend to examine the original context in which the photographic material was taken, as well as its initial use(s). The author's 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. She points out that archival research 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. She argues that by the early 1960s, after the arrival of a significant collection of historic photographs, and following the influence of major exhibitions of photography such as Edward Steichen’s 1955 exhibition titled The Family of Man at New York's Museum of Modern Art, the perspective of McCord's 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.
PhD dissertation
Concordia University
# of Pages
McNabb, Heather. “Visions of Canada: Photographs and History in a Museum, 1921-1967.” PhD dissertation, Concordia University, 2015.
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