Past as Future: Narrative Identities in Communal History Museums

By M. Elizabeth Weiser.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

“Once were Romans” proclaims the ad for the Roman National Museum—a more discontinuous narrative with the present day than the Museum of London’s “You are Here.” While London museums invite their citizens to participate in a traditional progress narrative of lessons learned, Roman museums, I will argue, use their past as an epideictic promotion of the values that engender a globally praised vision of the communal Roman future. In this paper I explore those different stories, analyze what they imply about identity using the lens of the narrative “lifestories” described by social psychologists, and then complicate that analysis by positing a communal lifestory available (perhaps exclusively) to particular kinds of communities. As in Rome, in Lima the international appropriation of the lifestory of an ancient empire allows for the creation of a uniquely epideictic form of communal generativity. Together these models move theories of narrative lifestory beyond individuals to communities, posit a third narrative lifestory sequence, and affirm modern rhetorical definitions of epideictic as evoking not only lasting values but potential change.

Keywords: Identity, Narrative, Epideictic, Museum, Rhetoric

International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp.73-84. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 699.402KB).

Dr. M. Elizabeth Weiser

Associate Professor, Rhetoric and Composition, Department of English, Ohio State University, Newark, OH, USA

Elizabeth Weiser is a rhetorical theorist with a Ph.D. in English from Texas Christian University, Ft. Worth, TX. Her work expands upon the theories of Kenneth Burke, the principal American rhetorician of the 20th century. Her book Burke, War, Words: Rhetoricizing Dramatism was published in 2008, and she has co-edited collections on 20th century women rhetors and 21st century audience theory. Her current project applies Burke’s ideas of communal identity formation to national museums. She is in the midst of gathering data from selected museums on six continents for a book with the working title Who We Are: Global Museums and National Identities. Weiser was a Fulbright Fellow in Ankara, Turkey, and is the winner of various scholarships and awards. Her paper “Who are We? Museums Telling the Nation’s Story” was a finalist for the 2010 International Award for Excellence from the International Journal of the Inclusive Museum. She teaches discourse analysis, argument theory, and writing at the Ohio State University at Newark.


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