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National Museum of Australia and the Smithsonian Institution Essay

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Museums may serve to preserve the most important events from history. Its main function is to present society with cultural, social, economical, and political controversies of the past.

By exhibiting artifacts as historic evidence, various museums attempt to educate people and make them understand the actual value of the presented evidence. Two museums under consideration – National Museums of Australia and the Smithsonian Institutions – are considered to be the time keepers of the world history. Their exhibitions have contributed to better highlighting the crucial points of history.

Nevertheless, some of the exhibitions have received mixed evaluation of critics due to the museums’ failure to find appropriate strategies for presenting and explaining the events of the past. The problem is that their vision of history contradicts national policy. Hence, on the one hand, the main task of museums is to objectively present the facts based on the evidence. On the other hand, they should set the priorities and emphasize the key themes of their nations.

Social roles performed by museums. Discussing peculiar features of the National Museum of Australia

It should be stressed that museums play a vital social role in describing the history and depicting the most historically important events happened in the past. What is more important is that the character of presentation can influence people’s attitude to the history and their awareness of the past. In this respect, wrong presentation and irrelevant emphasis on less important events can impose some distorted views.

Due to the fact that museums have a huge impact on the way society treats historical facts, there are a lot of controversies concerning the problem. In the same way, the National Museum of Australia considerably influences the character of history in terms of embroiled presentation of facts distinguishing the history of nation (Trinca, p. 85).

In particular, much criticism has been imposed concerning wrong setting of priorities in disclosing the facts from the Australian history. According to the 2003 review aimed at evaluating the museum performance and successes, the museum turned out to have certain drawbacks that can lead to a considerable distortion of the Australian history (Trinca, 2003, p. 86).

While visiting the National Museum of Australia, it has been discovered that the museum’s exhibitions and scientific exhibitions lack accuracy and coherency of storytelling. In particular, the main problem was a rigid disconnection between the material evidence and written explanation that is either insufficiently provided or, vice versa, is excessively emotional.

One way or another, the museum visitors can be deluded by the way the museum submits the history (Trinca, 2003, p. 85). However, the managers of the National Museum of Australia justify their actions and implementation of new techniques in displaying the fact by the necessity to keep pace with the development of contemporary society.

Understanding of contemporary issues in the society have been contributed to increasing awareness of the Australian culture making people to explore and exhibit the truth, facts and the national history.

The national museum of Australia exhibits contemporary issues which create identity to the people. Museums provides a venue for non-challenging social experiences to the society due to the political, cultural and social conflict in Australia and all space to debate and make decisions on topics and issues of contemporary importance and relevance.

The museum also saves intangible cultural heritage by placing the visitors in the community as it was many years ago, enable human development, human right and enhance humanity continuity. Exploration and valorization is a social role played by the museum by allowing the events, stories and narratives to unfold e.g. letting children go to the museums and learn to construct houses build by the indigenous people. It tries to tell and explain to the people the significance of the work left behind as evident by the past human activities.

With the application of advanced scientific technologies, the museum has succeeded in better presentation of history. What is more evident about the National Museum of Australia is that it provides a narrow presentation nation history.

In particular, it fails to correlate the Australian history with its place in the world history. This necessity for historic integration is indispensible to the nation because people should be aware of their perspective with regard to international relations, which is especially important on the background of contemporary global trends.

The social roles in the museums are evident from the displays, artifacts, collections and documentations. This has resulted to social purpose where more people are included in the museum management and decision making.

Government documentation and records show how states were formed in the society and how their came to be in existence. It shows the presence of power in the society and the struggle to fight for freedom in the society. This is revealed through documentation about the aborigines’ history and social changes.

Painting found in art museums merge the scientific and humanistic fields contributing art history, conservation of our resources and archaeology. The collections housed in the museums create a balanced venue for past and modern relations between the society, government, and culture. The balance enhances a social metaphor which acts as a tool for historical representation. Therefore, Museums are used as a measure of social changes.

The controversies at the National Museum of Australia and the Smithsonian Institution revealing the role of history in shaping a sense of identity

The Smithsonian institution is a research institute and museum institution complex managed and funded by the government of the United States while the national museum of Australia was formed by the national museum of Australia act 1980 to preserve, protect and interpret Australian history, observe and discuss important issues, people and events that have shaped the nation.

Museums exist due to people’s aspiration for national and cultural identity and reluctance to ignite conflicts and controversies when different political, cultural and social aspects need to be addressed.

Many of the resistances centered on the objects and questions concerning what should be the basis of topics, collections to be displayed and who makes editorial decisions. The museum director suggested that the museum was an institution which is diverse and should represent goals, civic and social missions representing the traditional values. This made the museums to be more informed about civic, social, cultural moment of the history.

Both museums – the National Museum of Australia and the Smithsonian Institution – face a rigorous criticism in terms of their narrow policy of the presentation of the history, which is often viewed through the prism of national concerns (Morgan, 2002). Therefore, the museum policies are often assessed as politically motivated ones.

Hence, according to Morgan (2002), the museum can be considered as “ideologically driven by a council minority with ministerial access” (p. 15). The main contradiction, thus, consists in the idea that the museum put an excessive emphasis on indigenous history as if politicizing and popularizing culture and ethnicity of the country.

Despite the pressure from the government and the panel, the director of the museum, Dawn Casey, justifies his narrow outlook on history by the necessity to develop the national cultural and ethnical awareness.

In addition, he insists on the idea that cultural identity should carefully treated and the role of museum is preserve the tradition and custom through disclosing and popularizing among contemporary society. Therefore, it is hard to call this approach as an ideological stressed because it is more focused on self-preservation of cultural and national history (Morgan, 2003).

In addition, although the panel accepts that history should reveal the national and national origins, but it should not present Australian people as a multiple identity that appeared as a result of the British colonization. The accentuation of this fact can negatively influence the political relations at the international level (McGrath, 2003).

Aside from the negative appraisals of the Australian museum’s policy, there is also the reverse of the medal. In particular, much attention should be paid to the contributions that the museum made for the introduction and enhancement of cultural identity.

Much criticism has been received by the Smithsonian Institution, particularly by its exhibition called Enola Gay dedicated to the actions happened during the period of the Second War. In particular, the debates were centered on the ambiguity in displaying the atomic bomber as reason for celebrating the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (Doyle, 2003).

According to the critics, such a controversial depiction of the history can lead to the international and political conflict with Japan. In this regard, the failure to meets the goals of the concerned groups, the cancellation of the exhibition was a reasonable actions aimed at preventing misconception between the parties (Kohn, 1997).

According to Kohn (1997), the initial aim of the exhibition was not associated with mere presentation of the historic past. Rater, bomber displaying was aimed at advertising the achievements of the American people in the sphere of technology.

Factually, this museum’s exhibition could also be treated a real threat to political frictions between the former rivals in the Cold War. Arising from this, the critics criticize the museum for irrelevant use of historic evidence for their own purposes (Korn, 1997, p. 143). Instead, they insist on the idea of displaying the historical heritage in the objective light.


In conclusion, it should be stressed that museums have a considerable influence on shaping social and cultural attitudes. Such establishments are also aimed at showing how history affects and influences us in our lives. Museums are a source of belonging, ownership, history and identity.

Museums should represent the live of a people and what is associated with national communities. In the light of conflicts, it is still necessary to be politically correct concerning what should be displayed in museums and what methods should used to sustain national concerns. The paper shows the importance and roles of museums, namely, the Australian museum and the Smithsonian institution, in society and why more people should actively participate in museums’ activities.

Reference List

Doyle, D. 2003. Historians Protest New Enola Gay Exhibit, American Historical
Association Perspectives
, pp. 19-20

Kohn, R. H. 1997.History at Risk: The Case of the Enola Gay, in History Wars:
The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past
ed. E.T. Linenthal & T. Engelhardt. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books. pp.140–70.

McGrath, A. 2003.The great diversity of Australian life is lost in the boy’s own view
of history, Online Opinion.

Morgan, J. 2002. Review of National Museum is “Politically Motivated”. Sydney
Morning Herald
, (December), p. 15

Morgan, J. 2003. Look Back in Anger. Sydney Morning Herald. 4(1). p. 13

Trinca, M. 2003. Museums and the History Wars. History Australia. pp. 85 – 97.

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