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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Exhibiting Environmental History: The Challenge of Representing Nation

Jillian Walliss

Environment and History 18 (2012): 423-445. doi: 10.3197/096734012X13400389809418

Some environmental scholars argue that environmental history makes sense on a regional or global scale but rarely on a national one. This essay explores this claim in the context of two national museums: the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (1998) and the National Museum of Australia (2001). It explores how the imperative to be representative of the nation influenced the opening-day displays of environmental history. I argue that a national framing produced two significant challenges. At the National Museum of Australia, the ‘Tangled Destinies’ exhibition not only struggled with the impossible scope of presenting a nation that encompasses an entire continent but also the reconciliation of the temporal disparities of deep time, indigenous and non-indigenous histories. Conversely at Te Papa, a disjuncture between a national landscape identity predicated on purity and the scientific reality of rapid and extensive environmental modification post-settlement, was influential in the decision to omit the environmental history display from the opening-day programme.

KEYWORDS: Interdisciplinarity, exhibition, museums, post-colonialism

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