Museums have grown exponentially in China in the span of approximately 110 years. How does one design an exhibit for a better-informed public? What kind of interpretive space is needed to engage the public? How do museums function as sites of public history? This article traces the genealogy of museum development in China, and argues that the birth of the modern museum in China is a product of the radicalism of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Embedded in the subsequent one hundred years of development are a changing definition of “public,” a remodeled idea of “history,” and an evolving relationship between museums and their public. Within this context, the “Museums and the Public: Urban Landscape and Memory” project explores how the public interprets history and landscapes through exhibits, and if or how the exhibits reflect their memories. The analysis raises three possibilities for museums in China.
Museums and the Public: Visions for Museums in China
Na Li is a research fellow/professor in the Department of History, Zhejiang University. She is editor of Public History: A National Journal of Public History, and international consulting editor for The Public Historian. She serves on the board of directors for the National Council on Public History. Her research focuses on public history and urban preservation. Her first book, Kensington Market: Collective Memory, Public History, and Toronto’s Urban Landscape (University of Toronto Press, 2015) investigates ethnic minority entrepreneurs in one of the most diverse neighborhoods, Kensington Market, in Toronto, incorporates collective memory in urban landscape interpretation, and suggests a culturally sensitive narrative approach (CSNA) to urban preservation. Her second book, Public History: A Critical Introduction, surveys the key issues in public history (Peking University Press, 2019).
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Na Li; Museums and the Public: Visions for Museums in China. The Public Historian 1 February 2020; 42 (1): 29–53. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2020.42.1.29
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