National museums and the mobilization of history : commemorative exhibitions of Anglo-Irish conflicts in Ireland and Northern Ireland (1921-2006)
Title: National museums and the mobilization of history : commemorative exhibitions of Anglo-Irish conflicts in Ireland and Northern Ireland (1921-2006)
Author: CAUVIN, Thomas
Citation: Florence : European University Institute, 2012
Series/Number: EUI PhD theses; Department of History and Civilization
Through the study of commemorative exhibitions arranged at the National Museum of Ireland (Ireland) and at the Ulster Museum (Northern Ireland), this thesis compares the changing representations of three historical conflicts (the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, the 1798 Rebellion, and the 1916 Easter Rising). Beginning with Partition and ending with new permanent military exhibitions in the twenty-first century, the research explores the ways in which the changing representations of these conflicts staged by the two museums have correlated with broader processes of mobilization of history designed to fit the needs of the present. In doing so, the complex relationships between museums and national identity are explored in the two parts of the island. The dissertation reveals how, at first, the two national museums participated in the construction of opposed official narratives, based on Nationalist and Unionist interpretations of the past in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It demonstrates how these initial interpretations of the three conflicts were gradually reassessed in response to changes in Anglo-Irish relations, especially in connection with the Northern Irish conflict and the politics of reconciliation. But the dissertation also explores how the new remit attributed to the two national museums has been shaped by the demands of cultural tourism, marketing strategy, and the new links with audiences, in a way that has served to detach the representations of the three conflicts from the political relations between the island of Ireland and Britain in the narrow sense. The dissertation explores the role of state actors, but is equally concerned with role played by curators, historians, educationalists, community relations personnel, tourism promoters, and audiences in advancing a more ‘bottom up’ view of the relationships between past and present. It ends by showing how the limited rapprochement of historical narratives that has taken place in recent decades results, in part, from the increasing need of the museums to attend to their audiences (international tourists in Dublin, community groups in Belfast), as well as from wider shifts in the relations between the governments in Belfast, Dublin and London.
Defence date: 14 September 2012; Examining Board: Professor Stephen Smith, European University Institute (Supervisor) Professor Laura LeeDowns, European University Institute Professor Mary Daly, University College Dublin (External Supervisor) Professor Simon Knell, University of Leicester