Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Museums and Remembrance Day - 2020 Edition

For my longtime readers, you will know that I have a tradition of sharing a Remembrance Day blog post that is contemplative in nature, and has 2020 ever given us reasons to contemplate. 

This year could easily be called unprecedented because of the many major movements and issues at play.  From Black Lives Matter, to Indigenous fishing rights, to immigration, to gender equality, to COVID-19 (just to name a few), these are some major shared experiences for humanity. The pandemic has caused incredible stress, sickness, death, and major changes to how we live our daily lives. It has also highlighted inequities and issues that have been bubbling beneath the surface for years, if not generations. In an age where we are all so interconnected and "in the know", it is impossible to not be touched by these issues. And while we can read news, studies, statistics and overarching reports about them, the individual experiences of these issues are vastly different. I am a white settler whose family has lived in Mi'kma'ki since the 18th century. I have to work to understand the perspectives and experiences of the Mi'kmaq because my education was colonialist in nature and the southwestern Nova Scotia that I know and love has never been a place of violence. I have to work to understand the experiences of new immigrants because my family has lived in Canada for centuries. I have to work to understand the perspectives and experiences of African Nova Scotians because I have lived a life of privilege and grew up in an area that was predominantly white. 

Dad/Grumpy and his girls. Roar!
I have to work to understand the pandemic perspectives and experiences of others, both near and far, due to the fact that my family has stayed healthy and employed and together thanks to the Atlantic Bubble. I do not have to work to understand the Me Too movement or what it feels like to be sexually harassed. As my father likes to remind me, I am woman. Hear me roar. And yes, I also recognize the privilege of having a father like that. 

The best way that we can work to understand the different perspectives and experiences of others, is to talk at the individual level. Yes it is helpful to know the overarching trends, statistics, and general information. We need to know how these individual perspectives and experiences fit into the bigger picture. But to understand, to empathize, and to make our communities stronger, we need to hear the individual realities. We need to document the individual realities. 

visiting Uncle Grenville's grave
The broad, complex, and far-ranging realities of the First and Second World Wars, and many other conflicts, have been studied and documented. We have access to many statistics and resources from many angles. And we have an increasing number of personal, individual accounts that speak to these broader experiences. But there is more work to be done. There are more stories to capture, more lessons to learn, more perspectives to understand. I did not live through the First or Second World War, so I must rely on family photos, letters, and oral histories to understand the impact on my family and the perspectives and experiences of my family at the individual level. I have to visit people, places and spaces where I can learn. I have to analyze why I am the way I am, think the way I do, and act the way I act, and how my past, multi-generationally, has impacted me. I have to work to understand.

As museums, it is our job to work to understand. We are called to share information from a variety of perspectives. Perspectives can be collective, based on location, politics, religion, gender, race...and much more. But they can also be very individualistic. And without understanding perspectives at the individual level, we will never be able to make sense of the bigger picture and overarching trends. We will not understand why some fought in wars while others stayed home unless we look at the individual stories. We will not understand what life was like for those who lost family members unless we look at the individual stories. We will not understand our communities, the grief and loss that they experienced and how this shaped their perspectives on life, unless we look at the individual stories.

Shared experiences are big, they are powerful, and they have the potential to shape our communities for generations. As we have more and more dialogue about systemic racism, multi-generational grief, inequality, the personal and economic impact of the pandemic, and other major issues, we have an opportunity and a responsibility as museums, to capture the individual realities of these shared experiences. It may not always be a comfortable task. There will be difficult conversations, differences of opinions, and very diverse memories and lived experiences to document, but we cannot fulfil our mandate to collect, preserve, and share knowledge without them. So as we honour those who fought for freedom and to protect people and communities, we must consider how we can carry that torch in our own way. We must work to understand. And we must help others do the same.