Wednesday, April 7, 2010

National Museum or old Government-General Building; a story of contested histories and how to teach them.


“Shin Young-ha argued that “the social role of the National Central Museum is [to be an] educational institution,… encouraging the national esteem for national history and culture…. However, the national cultural heritage in the [Japanese Government-General] building, the symbol of colonial rule, makes Koreans feel inferior, so we cannot expect any positive educational effect.”
This is a quote of quote from an essay in “Sitings: Critical Approaches to Korean Geography,” which is much recommended. The topic of the essay was the controversy surrounding the demolition of the Japanese Colonial Government-General building in 1995. At the time of demolition the building was being used as Korea’s central National Museum. I don’t have a position as to whether the building should have been demolished. But the above quote got me thinking about education and what museums are for.
To what degree is “encouraging…national esteem for national history and culture” a legitimate educational goal, particularly in this age of globalization? Every nation does it. Should we? And if so, how, and to what extent?
Personally I love the rich diversity that comes from regionalism and abhor the idea of a global “melting pot” society in which differences are dissolved into a foul tasting, homogenous, “stew.” But I also dislike the parochialism and isolationism that can arise when societies form excessively strong conceptions of the “Other.” What role does education have in charting a middle path between these extremes? Or is there another and better way to conceptualize these issues?

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