The international difficult histories boom, the democratization of history, and the National Museum of Australia

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In recent decades many nation-states have found it necessary or even useful to confront their troubling pasts. The phenomenon of what Sharon Macdonald has called “the international difficult histories boom” has been especially marked in settler societies as representation of colonial pasts has become a coin of enormous currency for aboriginal peoples. In this context, the place of aboriginal matters in museums, especially national museums, has been transformed. There has been much discussion and debate about the aboriginal pasts to be exhibited, how this should be done, and by whom. Here, I consider a particular example of the difficult histories boom by charting the making of a particular display in the First Australians gallery of the National Museum of Australia for its opening in 2001; the assault launched on it by conservative forces shortly afterward; its treatment by a review of the museum; and the consequent remaking of the display and related exhibits.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe International Handbooks of Museum Studies; Volume 4: Museum Transformations
EditorsAnnie E Coombes, Ruth B Phillips
Place of PublicationChichester West Sussex UK
Pages61 - 83
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9781405198509
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • aboriginal peoples
  • Australia
  • colonialism
  • democracy
  • historical knowledge
  • ational Museum of Australia
  • national museums
  • settler societies

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