MUSEUM-RELATED EDUCATION IN QUEBEC: AN HISTORICAL SURVEY
Exhibition Planning Officer
Exhibitions and Programmes Branch
Canadian Museum of Civilization
This article was published in Musées, vol. 22, (December 2000).
We observe in England, during the second half of the nineteenth century, the creation of museums as institutions, with the chief motivation of their instigators being a desire to educate the masses. Throughout the period, museums and education constituted two components of a single equation.
From the very beginning of the twentieth century, John Cotton Dana, founder of the Newark Museum in New Jersey, promoted the museum as an instrument of education. Debate raged at the time between those who believed that the museum should be guided by purely aesthetic considerations and those who saw it as a teaching institution shaped by the needs and aspirations of the community.
These two examples clearly illustrate the extent to which the educational function of museums is intrinsically bound up with their creation and development. Although these examples are from different cultural environments, one should not assume that the development of museums in Quebec took place in a vacuum. Quite the contrary.
How did museum-related education originate in Quebec, and what were the principal milestones in its development? We will attempt to outline some elements of an answer to this question, through personal reflection and with the appropriate perspective.
Episode 1: Getting Started
From the early nineteenth century, we see the appearance and disappearance of museums with a diversity of content, especially in Montreal and Quebec City. These museums were, initially, the creations of enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. Museums of natural history and travelling museums proliferated in this way throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, offering oddities, curiosities and sensational displays. Some accompanied their exhibits with a variety of spectacles, dioramas, amusements, plays, concerts, and explanatory booklets. Entertainment value, which is not unfamiliar to our contemporary museums, was a key element in drawing crowds-families in particular, but also, on occasion, schoolchildren. It is difficult, however, to gauge the seriousness of these presentations, especially when one considers how the information was communicated. (See Gagnon for more details.)
Most of the precursors of the great contemporary Western museums emerged during the second half of the nineteenth century. Spurred on by philanthropists, religious institutions, colleges and universities, collections were assembled and museums created. These exhibition halls became, and have remained even to this day, austere places of learning where science and knowledge are categorized. The Victorian museum is the stereotype with which many museologists must still come to terms at the start of the new millennium. The driving force behind these museums was a desire to educate the masses in order to increase social and economic well being. In addition, these museums offered courses, conferences, workshops, etc.
It is interesting to note that museums came into being at the same time as public school systems. Schools and museums share, in fact, an important educational function. It is no coincidence that Egerton Ryerson, the great Ontario reformer to whom we owe the public school system of that province, created in the 1850s a museum intended for teachers in training as well as students in Toronto schools. It was Ryerson’s belief that the museum should be an essential component in the development of every individual. The collections amassed for this museum gave birth, several years later, to the Royal Ontario Museum.
However, with the rise of public schooling, museums progressively unburdened themselves of their educational mandate, and concentrated on collecting and the scientific study of content. In Quebec, we see the birth of projects or collections that would later become great public establishments: for example, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Art Association of Montreal), the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Civilization (Geological Survey of Canada) and the Musée du Séminaire de Québec.
Episode 2: Efflorescence
Quebec museums resumed their educational mandate in the 1960s and 1970s, a time of increased activity in the museum world, linked to an awareness of the importance of heritage. It is interesting to note that, according to Allard, Expo ’67 in Montreal may have engendered an enthusiasm for museums in Quebec, much as the great World’s Fair had in London in 1851. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts established its first education department in 1961. Although numerous activities termed “educational” had been offered there since the 1930s, the museum now acknowledged the importance of its educational mission and would become a trailblazer and an inspiration for a number of other institutions. Museum-related education gradually developed in Quebec during the 1960s and 1970s with the creation of new museums and the development of programmes for schoolchildren. In fact, museum-related education would henceforth be synonymous with schooling. Professional literature dealing with the world of museum-related education increased in volume, both in Quebec as in other Western countries, particularly in the United States, followed by England. The early literature often deals with problems facing educators in their daily work or questions of a practical nature: the absence of professional recognition and of literature pertaining to their new profession; excessive dependence on the school system and its uncertainties (transportation, budget, etc); the workload (most educators designed, supervised and delivered the programmes themselves); programme design, successful techniques, etc.
Episode 3: Professionalization
The following years were characterized by an openness to the public and an awareness of the needs and expectations of different client groups, which gave added momentum to the museum’s educational mission. During the 1980s and 1990s, museum educators increasingly assumed a key role in their institutions. The lingering tendency to view educators as “museum accessories” diminished as they equipped themselves with the tools needed to accomplish their tasks. These tools were as much philosophical as technical: theories of learning based on the nature of the museum (see Vygotsky, Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi), pressure groups (GIS,* GEM,* MERT,* CECA,* GISEM* and others), structured discourse on the profession (see Allard, Dufresne-Tassé and Lefebvre, Hooper-Greenhill, Hein, Falk and Dierking), etc. The educator has increasingly defined himself or herself In this way, especially during the last ten years, as an advocate for the public and a specialist in theories of learning, communication, interpretation and evaluation.
Comparison of the Devis professionnel de l’éducateur, published in 1989, and the Analyse de la profession du chargé de projet à l’action éducative et culturelle, published in 2000:
It is interesting to note the broadening of the educational function and of the educator’s role within museum institutions during a single decade.
|Position title||Museum educator, interpreter||Project manager for educational and cultural action|
|Concepts||Accessibility, students, hands-on learning, links with schools||Mediation, interpretation, educational and cultural action|
|Accompaniment mission. Terms similar to those used in 2000.||Educational mission that refers to museum-related education and cultural action. Enhancement of collections and making contact with target populations.|
|Guided tour, workshop, etc.||Guided tour, workshop, etc.|
|Very little. Workshops, conferences, round-table talks, are mentioned.||Teaching activities: conferences, round-table talks.
Play activities: games, storytelling Artistic expression: theatre, music, dance
Four fact-finding reports, three of American or British origin, have had a major impact on the development of museum-related education: UNESCO’s Musées, imagination et education (1973), Museum for a New Century (1984), Excellence and Equity (1992) and A Common Wealth (1997). These reports created a shock wave, which lead to the recognition of the educational nature of the museum. According to the UNESCO report: “A visit to the museum becomes a passionate adventure; it contains an element of personal discovery, of emulation, that gets children involved and puts them at ease. It is no longer a question of noting names and dates, but rather of learning to recognize, visually, the characteristics that differentiate centuries and countries, or the works of such and such an artist. This concept of visual learning constitutes the original contribution of museums to education, and it applies to all ages and every stage of intellectual development.” In his report, Anderson wrote: “By making education the raison d’etre of all their activities, museums can both reaffirm the purpose for which they were created, and meet the challenge of the learning society which the United Kingdom is becoming.” This reality is equally present in Quebec. Moreover, the latest GREM* survey indicates that most museums in Quebec have an education specialist (a term which has included, for the past few years, the concepts of interpretation and/or cultural action). Recent museum policy also reiterates the educational mission of the museum: “Museum institutions are …called upon to build on their uniqueness as places for education and delight, as much as depositories for the real, the authentic, the palpable, and the extraordinary.”
The following table depicts how educators have broadened their outlook in the face of an increasingly diversified clientele.
|Report on Canadian School-Related Museum Education – 1981||A Common Wealth : Museums in the Learning Age – 1999|
|Train teachers in terms of museum utilization||Ensure that learning will be the focal point of museologists’ concerns|
|Equip oneself with philosophical and theoretical principles||Weave a web of networks between professionals in education and those of other milieus|
|Favour programming for a large audience||Enlarge audiences|
|Emulate eco-museums||Better integrate evaluation with practice|
Museum educators have confronted and overcome many obstacles in the development of their profession. These obstacles fall into two categories:
- relationship to power: few educators have, until recently, occupied executive positions;
intellectual discourse: educators have made enormous progress over the past ten years, allowing them to articulate a structured body of thought. The marginal relationship with power and the absence of a structured discourse have led, among other things, to under-funding, lack of recognition as professionals, a degree of discouragement, staff turnover, etc. However, those educators who believe profoundly in the educational mission of their institutions have fundamentally modified the perception and the goals of museums. Although still perceived by some as heresy, the idea that the museum’s mission comprises education and openness to the public has continued to garner more and more of a consensus. Anyone asserting the contrary would be labelled a heretic in the current environment.
As shown in this historical overview, the development of the museum’s educational mission and the development of the profession of educator follow, in Quebec, essentially the same stages as in England and, above all, in the United States, where the idea of museum-related education, in the contemporary sense, was born. The diversity of English-language literature on the subject is, therefore, hardly surprising. One hundred years after John Cotton Dana, we may rightly believe that the foundations of museum-related education are solid, and that they will allow us to make of our institutions places that must be reckoned with by any society that values the development of its citizens. Educators bring a unique expertise to museums, one that will allow them to participate in the challenges of the coming years, whether those challenges be technological, cultural or economic.
GEM: Group for Education in Museum (www.gem.org.uk)
CECA: Comité pour l’éducation et l’action culturelle de l’ICOM
MER: Museum Education Roundtable (www.erols.com/merorg/)
- Allard, Michel. “Pour un rapprochement entre l’école et le musée : perspective historique”, in Le musée au service de la personne, Montréal, GREM, 1999.
- American Association of Museums. Excellence and Equity : Education and the Public Dimension of Museums, Washington (D.C.), AAM, 1992.
- Anderson, David. A Common Wealth : Museums in the Learning Age, London, The Stationary Office, 1999.
- Aperçus sur le rôle des musées dans l’éducation, Paris, UNESCO, 1952.
- Dufresne-Tassé, Colette et André Lefebvre. Psychologie du visiteur de musée – Contribution à l’éducation des adultes en milieu muséal, Montreal, Éditions Hurtubise HMH, 1996.
- Gagnon, Hervé. Divertir et instruire : les musées de Montréal au XIXe siècle.,Sherbrooke, Production G.G.C., 1999.
- Groupe de recherche sur l’éducation et les musées. Les services éducatifs et/ou d’action culturelle des institutions muséales québécoises, Montreal, UQAM, 2000.
- Herbert, Mary Ellen. Report on Canadian School-Related Museum Education. s.l., s.n., 1981.
- Musées, imagination et éducation, Paris, UNESCO, 1973.
- The New Museum : Selected Writings by John Cotton Dana, Washington (D.C.), AAM/The Newark Museum, 1999.
- Politique muséale – Vivre autrement… la ligne du temps, Québec, Ministère de la Culture et des Communications, 2000.
What Must Be Addressed
This list reflects the extent of the discourse developed by museum educators. It would certainly be desirable for francophone museologists to put pen to paper and bear witness in greater numbers to their practice and ideas.
- Allard, Michel and Bernard Lefebvre. Le Musée, un lieu éducatif, Montréal, Musée d’art contemporain, 1997.
- Csikszentmihály, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, New York, Harper & Row, 1990.
- Falk, John and Lynn Dierking. Learning from Museums: Visitor Experiences and the Making of Meaning, Walnut Creek (Calif.), AltaMira Press, 2000.
- Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind : The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, New York, Basic Books, 1985.
- Grinder, A.L. and E.S. McCoy. The Good Guide: A Sourcebook for Interpreters, Docents and Tour Guides, Scottsdale (Ariz.), Ironwood Publishing, 1985.
- Hein, George. Learning in the Museum, Londres, Routledge, 1998.
- Hirsch, Joanne et Lois Silverman. Transforming Practice: Selections from the Journal of Museum Education, 1992-1999, Washington (D.C.), Museum Education Roundtable, 2000.
- Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean. Museum and Gallery Education, Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1991.
- Lefebvre, Bernard. L’éducation et les musées: visiter, explorer et apprendre., Montreal, Les Éditions Logiques, 1994.
- McLean, Kathleen. Planning for People in Museum Exhibitions, Washington (D.C.), ASTC, 1996.
- Moffat, M. et Vicky Woollard. Museum and Gallery Education: A Manual of Good Practice, London, The Stationery Office, 1999.
- Pitman, Bonnie. Presence of Mind: Museums and the Spririt of Learning, Washington, (D.C.), American Association of Museums, 1999.
- Roberts, Lisa C. From Knowledge to Narrative: Educators and the Changing Museum, Washington (D.C.), Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997.
- The New Museum: Selected Writings by John Cotton Dana, Washington (D.C.), American Association of Museum et Newark Museum Association, 1999.
- Voris, Helen et al. Teach the Mind, Touch the Spirit : A Guide to Focused Field Trip, Chicago, Field Museum of Natural History, 1986.