Claiming the Terrible Gift–A Post-TRC Investigation in Praxiological Museology

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Cooper-Bolam, Trina Johanne




This thesis develops the curatorial pedagogy of the 'Terrible Gift', which was conceived by the late Roger I. Simon as a means of enabling more effective representations of difficult histories, but was never implemented in a major exhibition. As a ritual of bequest and inheritance enacted in exhibition, the Terrible Gift is intended to implicate visitors in the difficult histories and legacies that perpetuate iniquitous social conditions in the present, and, to obligate them in the necessity of an ethical response. In an effort to move the Terrible Gift toward realization, my research prepares Simon's pedagogy for implementation at a test site, the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Building on the Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall exhibition, on which I have worked in the professional capacities of curator, designer, and project manager at the behest of the Survivor community, I propose a series of museal interventions with the 'terrible gifts', aspects of the site's evidentiary landscape, that remain to be gifted and claimed. Taking the form of praxiological museology-a critical, decentering, and deconstructive practice that aligns and draws on transdisciplinary knowledges and stimulates critical self-reflexive exhibition development-these interventions respond to the architectural, architectural, and mnemonic conditions of the site. Motivated in part by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to reckon with the Indian residential school system, my research is intended to expand the repertoire of the New Museology toward engendering the conscientizing and reciprocal/recursive effects required to improve our prospects for a less violent future. To this end, my thesis (i) elucidates a procedure by which the Terrible Gift can be implemented as a curatorial pedagogy, (ii) compares museal reckonings with difficult histories and 'critical events' through the lens of gift and inheritance, eliciting promising practices, and (iii) develops a series of proposed interventions using methods of praxiological museology toward realizing the pedagogy of the Terrible Gift. Envisaged by Simon as a hopeful practice, wherein collective labour toward redemption is unhindered by its impossibility, the Terrible Gift, and indeed this research, recognizes reconciliation not as an end-state, but as an unending process of negotiation.


Critical pedagogy
Canada -- Study and teaching




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Cultural Mediations

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Theses and Dissertations

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