National Museum Wales and the scalar bureaucracies of institutional memory work

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Department of Social Sciences


Museums form a core institutional foundation to the formation of national identities. They reflect, obfuscate, perform, and shape national narrative and discourse, particularly when operated at the national scale. In Wales, the national museum system is public and composed of seven museums. These national museums negotiate scale in complex, but perhaps not necessarily unique, ways as they root themselves into local communities and regions, operationalize themselves alongside other regional, national, and state heritage institutions, and increasingly inform, support, and draw upon inter- and transnational heritage. How do collective memories or national narratives translate or articulate across scales and landscapes into and from a central bureaucracy, particularly one which came under limited control of democratically-elected Welsh governing bodies in 1997? While geographers have historically included museums within our broader purview, particularly in historical and cultural contexts, few studies have asked how a transcalar, multi-thematic, and dispersed public museum system could be approached via a bureaucratic political geography. This paper aims to address the place for geography at the intersection of nation, state, memory, and museum within the context of National Museum Wales and argues for greater consideration of institutional and bureaucratic memory work within nation-building.

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Political Geography