David Ross McCord (1844-1930): Imagining a Self, Imagining a Nation

Type of resource
David Ross McCord (1844-1930): Imagining a Self, Imagining a Nation
An examination of the life of David McCord (1844-1930) and the contribution he made to Canadian public memory as founder of Montreal's McCord Museum of National History. In his McGill-sponsored museum, founded in 1921, the author argues that McCord sought to promote a myth of Canadian origins with narration provided by the objects of his personal collection. Integral to this history was the story of the McCord family, their arrival on this continent and their rise to social prominence. In McCord's version of Canadian history, family and personal myth were conflated with that of nation. Viewed through the prism of his collecting and museum work, the author finds that McCord's life does not easily fit the Carlylean frame adopted by most biographers. In Canadian biographical writing by historians, the 'truth' about a person's life is revealed by following the modernist recipe of painstakingly recreating a detailed chronology of the individual's life. The approach followed by the author is a departure from traditional political biography. She found that entry into McCord's life does not occur at his biological birth date, but at the moment of his own self-fashioned 'birthing', with the opening of the museum realized near the end of his life. In this biographical strategy, McCord's museum acts as a theatre of memory, where fragments of his life story are reassembled to create a narrative of national origins and of personal redemption. In his selection of objects and their display, and in the creation of an archive and the museum itself, McCord left a very elaborate and lasting record of his response to a set of changes associated with industrialization, a process which, in his lifetime, radically transformed the Montreal of his parents' generation. The author traces the connection between the creation of a public museum, founded to promote a collective vision of the Canadian past, and the private world of one collector whose collecting practice was defined as much by his own desire to remember and be remembered as it was by the kinds of objects he collected. The author found that what makes David McCord's life and collection so compelling is the opportunity it provides from understanding national history from the intimate perspective of one individual.
PhD dissertation
McGill University
# of Pages
Harvey, Kathryn Nancy. “David Ross McCord (1844-1930): Imagining a Self, Imagining a Nation.” PhD dissertation, McGill University, 2006. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/thesescanada/vol2/QMM/TC-QMM-100618.pdf.
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