Museum, exhibition, object : artefactual narratives and their dilemmas in the National Museum of Scotland
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Bucciantini, Alima Maria
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National museums are spaces where stories of the past are told through the display and interpretation of material culture. The narratives that are created in this way reflect the ways in which the nation wants to be seen at that particular moment, and are often embedded in the larger political and social contexts of that time. This thesis looks at the National Museum of Scotland as having three levels of narrative: that of the museum as a physical space and national institution, that of the temporary exhibitions it hosts and develops, and, most crucially, as a collection of important and iconic objects. By tracing the artefacts that were given a central role in various exhibitions over the life of the museum, the narratives of nation and history which were most valuable at that time can be uncovered. The two permanent and five temporary exhibitions profiled in this work act as windows into the life of the museum, and the goals and challenges it had at that moment. The thesis begins with the story of museum history in Scotland, from the 1780 formation of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland to the debates in the 1990s about the potential form and contents of a new Museum of Scotland. From there we look at two temporary exhibitions in the 1980s which inspired the Museum of Scotland, before examining some more recent temporary and touring exhibitions – a pair that came to Scotland from Russia, and one that left Edinburgh to travel among other Scottish museums. The final chapter returns to the realm of what it means to have a national museum, as it investigates the 2006 rebranding that changed the Museum of Scotland into the National Museum of Scotland, and what the new nomenclature signals about the objects and narratives within. All together, this work is both the story of a particular national museum and an investigation into the ways in which national history is continuously made and remade for the public through the display of artefacts from the past.