Reframing collective memory in museums

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Based on a case study of a bilingual photographic exhibition on nineteenth-century China, this article explores how collective memory is constructed and translated in museums. Three pillars of collective memory were reviewed and adopted as the theoretical framework: a body of knowledge, an attribute and a process. Important carriers of memory in photographic exhibitions, including photographic images and textual interpretations, were discussed. Framing as a translation strategy is also brought into the discussion for analyzing translation shifts. To understand the process of memory construction in this exhibition, a range of data has been collected and analyzed, including the photos, the photographer’s writings, academic research on his photos, English and Chinese labels used in the touring exhibition, as well as other paratexts of the exhibition, including the prefaces in the catalogues, the interviews with the curator and the exhibition websites. The findings illustrate a process of narration and re-narration of the photos, which reflects the wishes, the ambitions and the expectations of the memory stakeholders at a different time and space as well as from different cultures. Although photos are often regarded as tangible proof of the past, they only capture a glimpse of a selective moment. How that moment is extended to the present is largely framed by the accompanied verbal interpretations. This article concludes that the past is selected and constructed in the space between the visual and the verbal, which results in an institutional narrative of collective memory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Translation and Memory
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781003273417
ISBN (Print)9780815372158
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2022


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