Piggott, Michael: storytellers for a nation?

Piggott, Michael

National cultural institutions: story-tellers for a nation?reCollections (National Museum of Australia), 10, 1, 2015

For almost a decade now, the terms “story” and “storytelling” have been used as a marketing and branding theme by many of Australia’s national collecting institutions. Curiously, everyone seems to assert the sum of the stories/objects they collect and tell add up to the national story. This paper examines some of the distinctive ways libraries, archives and museums exploit storytelling in Australia and, while noting the obvious benefits derived from the use of story, suggests there are grounds for reservation too. (abstract)

Curiously enough, Honest History’s March 2015 update juxtaposed the storytelling claims of two institutions, the National Museum of Australia, and the Australian War Memorial.

Piggott discusses various aspects of stories and storytelling and concludes on a cautionary note.

The marketing needs of our libraries, archives and museums acknowledged, what specialised national role should they play? Acting in concert, perhaps they might reflect upon [Maria] Tumarkin’s fear that there is something real behind narrative fetishism: a fear that narrative could become “an evolved and brilliantly disguised way of shutting our ears to what hurts and scares us the most, a way not of sharing our experiences but of multiplying the vast archives of unlistened to stories”. National collecting institutions have responded in the national interest by documenting stories in support of reconciliation imperatives, and cleverly harnessed storytelling to support their public programs. But in a culture already saturated with stories, if you are “where our stories come alive” because your very raison d’être is to proactively collect and preserve for the long term, it is which stories and whose stories that matters.

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