Leaving and Longing: Migration Museums as Nation-Building Sites

Claire Sutherland


In the evolving context of new museology, museum interpretations of the nation variously contribute to and critique the nation-building discourse that continues to legitimate the contemporary nation-state. A focus on borders and cross-border migration offers another perspective on the construction of national belonging. In the last twenty years, both Catalonia and Germany have established national museums representing the nation’s history as well as migration museums reflecting very different approaches to coming to terms with past dictatorships and post-war migration. The article compares four museums to discern their different perspectives on nation-building. It conceptualizes the nation-state and its borders, before looking at the extent to which narratives of nation and migration complement each other in the exhibitions. By approaching nation-building discourse indirectly through migration and borders – two concepts counterpoised to, and thus constitutive of, the nation – it shows how migration mirrors the nation in museum representations. The article concludes that, far from transcending national histories, migration museums help reconfigure nation-building discourse away from an archetype of national longue durée dominated by a single ethnic group. Further, national museums that pay attention to the actual integration of migrant flows rather than more abstract cross-cultural flows can go some way towards doing the same.

Full Text:


Copyright (c) 2015 Claire Sutherland

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
We use both functional and performance cookies to improve visitor experience. Continue browsing if you are happy to accept cookies. Please see our Privacy Policy for more information.

Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

University Home