[wrong paper]  The Royal Ontario Museum, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Critical Public Engagement

15:30, Tuesday 7 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

Public engagement has become a central theme in the mission statements of many museums, and in scholarly research into museums and public history. Engagement has emerged as the go-to-it-word for generating, improving, or repairing relations between heritage institutions and society at large. But engagement is frequently an unexamined term that might embed assumptions and ignore power relationships. This paper will examine the ethics and implications of the misleading uses of the words “public engagement” in relation to critical public understandings of historical narratives, and mistaken dealings with emergent and conflict-laden questions about the past. It will consider the development of an exhibition on the Dead Sea Scrolls by the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Toronto, in 2009 within the institutional goal to “Engage the World.” It will explore the nature of the historical consciousness promoted within educational objectives and historical narratives of the reconceptualized planning process, especially how ROM management and staff addressed subjects, issues, and publics that were more controversial in nature. The motivations, processes, and decisions deployed to “Engage the World” will be analyzed in relation to the ROM’s social, cultural, and economic constraints.

Northumbria University