Fieldwork research in museums in Norway and China suggests that if national pasts are obviously unique to the historical trajectories of each country, their museum renditions are structured in an intriguingly similar way. Museum displays of national pasts in Norway develop around a set of themes including myths of ancestry and descent; epics of resistance leading the embryonic nation through a dark era and towards a “Golden Age”; a core of moral and aesthetic values; notions of national modernity; and selective amnesia. I will show how similar topics can be found in museum displays of the past in Chinese museums.
The comparative perspective of the analysis enables me to assess the uniqueness of museum representations of the past in Norway and at the same time to explore analogies in the museum construction of national narratives beyond the European context, through the case study of China. This will lead me to put forward the hypothesis of the coagulation, at international level, of a canon for the museum representation of national history.
Keywords: Museums; Norway; China; national history; representation