The Making and Unmaking of a University Museum

The Making and Unmaking of a University Museum: The McCord, 1921-1996

Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Making and Unmaking of a University Museum
    Book Description:

    Museums and cultural institutions across North America and Europe are being transformed by budget cuts, re-evaluation of their cultural missions, evolving concepts of museology, and changing audiences, making Brian Young's trenchant history of a prestigious university museum, Montreal's McCord Museum of Canadian History, especially pertinent. In The Making and Unmaking of a University Museum Young elucidates the relationship between museums and communities by examining the nineteenth-century social context of the family who bequeathed their collection to McGill University and the collection's fate in an academic institution. Tracing the museum's history from its founding by David Ross McCord, he emphasizes the centrality of elite women to the culture of the museum and its survival in the twentieth century, the museum's importance as the collective memory of Montreal's English-speaking elite, and the difficulty academic historians have had in dealing with material history. He recounts a sorry tale of mismatched institutional and intellectual cultures that culminated in the university's transfer of custodial responsibility to a corporate museum board and the collapse of the museum's central research and conservation mandates.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7164-8
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. Chronology
    (pp. xiv-1)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 2-15)

    Teaching and writing history is my work and, firsthand in classrooms, politics, television, and daily life, I see its use in society. more than simple narrative or story, history is a complex intellectual process in which explanation is central. To me, history’s essential is grounded in social relations that include those family, class, gender, community, ethnicity, or institutions. Part of this process of understanding social relations – and inevitably preventing any perfect scientific objectivity – is thevécu,that is, historian’s own living experience of life. The transformation historical evidence into written history is a passage profoundly by the historian’s own culture:...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Making History, 1760—1907
    (pp. 16-47)

    John McCord and his family arrived in Quebec in the early 1760s as part of the merchant community that capitalized on the British Conquest. Over the next century, the McCords rose from the rough Quebec ranks of shopkeeper, shipper, purveyor, and tavern keeper to the upper echelon of the Montreal élite. The McCords exhibit classic benchmarks ofembourgeoisement: progress in the occupations of the male McCords from merchant and distillery owner in the 1780s, to magistrate and rentier in the 1790s, and then into the legal professions and social status as lawyer and judge; their accession to landed power with...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Making a Museum, 1908–55
    (pp. 48-79)

    My favourite spot from which to contemplate the place of museums at McGill is the Roddick Gates at the university’s main entrance on Sherbrooke Street. Looking towards the campus, the view to the left and centre is captured by the Arts Building, the old Redpath Library, and, between them, the Redpath Museum, the university’s museum of natural history. The first building in Canada built specifically as a museum (in 1882), the Redpath Museum dominated the late nineteenth-century campus. Its interior - the amphitheatre, majestic staircase, elegant director’s office, and ornate exhibition areas - was unmatched in Canada. Indeed, half a...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Women’s Culture in the Museum, 1921-75
    (pp. 80-111)

    I have emphasized how McGill only begrudgingly accepted the McCord Museum and then operated it in an increasingly bureaucratic frame. Indeed, in the very period in which it accepted the museum, the university was turning away from Principal Dawson’s concept of involvement with a larger public constituency and away from the religious and social debates of Darwinianism to new definitions of science, intellectual life, professionalization, and disciplinarity. As McCord, Lighthall, Currie, and Nobbs moved off stage in the 1920s and 1930s, the museum lost strong conservative voices that had asserted its place in the university. In 1936, the museum’s closing...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR A Public Museum, 1970s and 1980s
    (pp. 112-147)

    To the 1970s, this book represents my reconstruction of the McCord family, establishment of a university museum, and the work of curators like Isabel Dobell. The process of writing this history necessarily changes in 1975. In that year I came to McGill to teach Canadian history; and from the History Department’s location in the Leacock Building, the McCord Museum can be seen across Sherbrooke Street. Interested in the history of Montreal and particularly its middle class, I saw the museum as an extremely valuable resource on the campus. Over two decades, I researched and published from its collections, taught seminars...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Missed Connections, 1987–96
    (pp. 148-176)

    In December 1986, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation announced a $20 million gift to construct an expanded McCord Museum. That the McConnell influence was to be continuing was confirmed with the placing of an additional $10 million into a separate McCord Foundation, interest from which was to support improvements and the ongoing operation of the museum.

    One of Montreal’s most powerful capitalists and founder of the McConnell Foundation, John Wilson McConnell (1877-1963) was best known as owner of the MontrealStar.A fundraiser for the YMCA and leader of the “Day’s Pay Scheme” in which workers in Montreal’s largest industries...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 177-206)
  13. Sources
    (pp. 207-212)
  14. Picture Sources and Credits
    (pp. 213-214)
  15. Index
    (pp. 215-224)