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Conceptual Difference Between Nation and State

Discuss about the Archive, Museum and Society for Democracy.

There is a difference in the concepts of nation and the state. Nation is a natural concept whereas state is an artificial man made concept. By natural concept the meaning implied is that the nationality is a feeling that is there in the mind of the nationals. The people feel to be a part of a particular group. This feeling of belonging and sameness to a particular group of people can be termed as nationality. On the other hand State is a political concept where a particular geographical boundary is specified by the borders which can be termed as a state (Hammar, 2017). The particular state has its own government and administrative systems. An individual person may not feel to be a part of a state. However a person of a nationality essentially feels to be a part of that nation.

Simple examples can be given in this regard in order to explain the difference between the concepts of state and nation. When the imperialist forces had taken over some of the regions of Africa and Asia, these regions were under the state of the imperial force. They were regarded as colonies. However the people of these colonies maintained their own unity and had a feeling of belonging-ness to their own mother land and to their own people. This feeling is their nationalistic feeling and they can be considered belonging from the same nation. State however is a political concept where a particular government has assumed power and political boundaries are created in order to demarcate the state. It is not necessary that people within a political state will feel to be the part of the same nation. Which means that the people from a state may not show their obedience to the government of the state, however they will show obedience to their own nation. 

The process of building a nation is complex. It is not easy to make a vast number of people to feel the part of the same land. The people are inclined by their nature to be divisive. It is the nature of people to have their own opinion over others. There is an important role that archival plays in order to make people feel the part of the same group (Dieckhoff & Gutiérrez, 2017). The people must have a shared history in order to understand the similarity in their origin. This similar origin is displayed by the archival systems of the state. There are various controversies related to the system of archival that is followed in the present day. It is thought by a large section of people that there is a systematic process of knowledge filtration, which is done from the state governments in order to filter out those parts of the history that may be unfavourable for nation building, and they highlight those parts which are favourable. However it must be conceded that the archival system is necessary for people to understand their past glories and the past mistakes as well so that they may not be repeated (Smith, 2017).

The Role of Archival in Building a Nation

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticism is related to the concepts of nation building with the system of knowledge filtration. In the Bentham’s Penoptic prison there was a constant watch on the inmates and strict surveillance (Ketelaar, 2006). In the present system there is a strict surveillance on the system of archival and the knowledge distribution, this is done by the process of knowledge filtration. Therefore it is the role of the government of the state and the international governments in a united effort, to make sure that the nation building happens through careful portrayal of history through systematic archival.

In the first instance democracy is the ideal system of people’s power to decide their own administration. However the fact is the democratic systems are not ideal as well. There are difference about the ideas of democracy in various states. There are different systems of democracy as well. There are countries where people directly elect there head of states and there are states where the system is to elect representatives who will elect the head of the state. The ideal of the liberal democracies lies in the concept of recognising man essentially as an empowered independent individual with rights (Historyguide.org., 1789). There are Presidential systems of democracies and there are parliamentary systems as well. The ultimate process is to ensure that the nation building process is smoothened through systematic input of controlled knowledge. There are existing information in all the states that may disrupt the peace and order. This is the reason that communal clashes are not reported in the media, at least in its unedited form. The name of the communities that have clashed are not mentioned either. The archival of a community is maintained in a way in the museums in the way which the government favours. There are records of the past ancestors of a community who have come out of a bad period of struggle by determination and hard work. This is necessary to make the people feel proud of the past history of their nation. The parts of the history that are unfavourable and not so good for the nation building process is omitted from the archival. The earlier dictatorships and monarchical system of government has been replaced with the systems of democracy by independence movements, the American declaration of independence is such triumph over imperialistic power (Archives.gov., 1776).

Presently the Norwegian State does not have any official national museum as recognised by the state, the parliament or the government. However it was the efforts since the nineteenth century to establish various museums in order to display the “national culture and national history” and the funding has very actively come from the government for making these museums important part of the Norwegian state building instruments (Amundsen, 2011). There are various museums in Norway having the name of the State associated with them. This however does not mean that these museums are government funded. Some of such museums are “Norwegian Road Museum, Norwegian Oil Museum, Canning Museum” and similar others. The Norwegian Museums played an important role in making the narrative of the Norwegian history and cultural heritage, and this effort started in the nineteenth century (Kulturradet.no., 2003). The finding of the Viking Ship by the National Collection of Antiquities was an important event, and this institution formed an important part in regards to the nation building of Norway in the 19th Century (Aronsson, 2014).

Controlled Knowledge Distribution Through the System of Archival and Museum Display

The most important Norwegian museums had been established in the 19th Century which had the intrinsic objective of demonstrating the “national identity” of the country. In the beginning of the 1800s the Norwegian state and official institutes were weak. 1814 was the beginning of the newly formed State of Norway. The University of Oslo played important role in making the first few museums in Norway (Amundsen, 2011). Still now these museums are linked with the universities. The stated objectives were to excel in the field of academic endeavours, to safeguard and boost the national culture, identity and heritage, and to start research about the finding of the past history of Norway. The National Gallery was established by the direct engagement of the Norwegian parliament. The Norwegian folk museum which was found in the same period had the aim to display the Norwegian culture in a positive light to the world, this was done taking 16th Century as the threshold. The museum aimed at displaying those aspects of the Norwegian art that was not displayed by the Universities. The National museums mentioned above along with the National Collection of Antiquities had been effective in recording and archiving the various aspects of the Norwegian National identity like “the Viking ships, the Viking and Medieval heritage”. The nation had to be proud of their past which showed the ancestors as glorious (Knell, 2014).

There have been some consequences and challenges in the endeavour of the country to establish its history through the newly built museums and archives from the 19th Century onwards. In the late medieval era Norway became a part of the Danish empire. The separation of the power happened during the mid-19th Century and finally Norway had its own territory, what was now needed was to establish the cultural identity in a precise way.  The separation from Denmark and the union with Sweden, had made this country a perfect example of the 19th Century nation development phenomenon. There was independent parliamentary, administrative, political, judicial, social, and religious system in the country after the formation of the separate state. Though there was a personal union with Sweden, the two nations maintained their own political identity.  The citizens, especially the intellectual sections had been asking for national identity, depending on the culture, language, beliefs and lifestyle of the people living with Norway. The Norwegian nationalistic writers and the scholars and some sections of the nationalistic historians took part in the formation of the grand narrative of the great Norwegian history. What were included in this new narrative was the Vikings who were powerful and glorious, and the Great kingdom of Norway in the medieval era. The new history and narrative had to be different from the history of the Norwegian history while it was a part of the Danish emperor, as that portion of the history was considered to be shameful for the great Norwegian nation, and hence the new national Norwegian Museums were set up to display with pride the remains and records of a glorious and separate Norwegian Empire that had a distinct identity and existence. The museums were started to be developed immediately after the formation of the New Norwegian Nation state (Rees, 2017). The museums were never a part of the National Government of Norway. However these were actively supported by the government for nation building and the nationalistic historians and authors were instrumental in doing their bit in the formation if the new narrative of Norwegian heritage. The archival of Norwegian antiquities started with the establishment of the University of Oslo, and the Collections of natural history, Collections of cultural history and Collections of coins were part of the archival of the University. The Commission of Antiquities was formed and it started collecting antiquities that are a part of the Norwegian cultural heritage, all these were displayed as part of the glorious and proud national history of the country (Fladmark, 2015). . These were later on handed over to the University of Oslo and then started the University’s own collection of “of National Antiquities”.  Hence these are the various ways how the concept of nation and nation building influenced the activities of Norwegian museums from the 19th Century up to today.

As it is seen from the above examples the museums has been used as instruments of national identity building and making of narratives that would endeavour in glorifying certain periods of the national history of a country. The archival of historical records are very important in order to project in a certain way the historical history of a nation state (Alexander, Alexander & Decker, 2017).

There is a debate about the purpose of the museums and for which audience a particular museum is meant for. There are various kinds of museums which deal with various artefacts and different fields of historicity. There are art museums that have the preserved artistic paintings and sculptures from various periods. There are museums of antiquity and artefacts that deal with the various statues, items, articles excavated out of the grounds. There are museums relating specifically with folk art, or a particular type of art. However the combined narrative of a museum remains same, and the nation building aspect is one of the most important ones.

There are international historical communities who have different opinions about the nature of the museums run by the various national governments. Some scholars have again and again emphasized on the aspect of “knowledge filtration” in which many of the important historical findings are kept away from the general public in order to suppress some disturbing facts that does not conform to the traditional historical approach. Michael Cremo in his books especially in “Forbidden Archaeology” has emphasized the point of knowledge filtration. Therefore there is an ongoing debate about this method of making up narratives and supressing some of the information depending on the necessity as felt by the authorities. The question arises about whether the museum is for everyone or not, even for those who may not agree to the traditional approach of conformism and grand narrative of the nation building.

There is also a debate about the nature of the art museums and whether the kinds of displays in the art museums are exhibited can be comprehended by the layman or not. Most of the museums do promote as institutions that cater to all the sections of the population, however there is a divide between the elite, the scholars, and the common men (Herzfeld, 2014). A person who has little historical knowledge would feel intimidating and alienated stepping into the museum. In many of the museums the entry fee is high, the access to all the artefacts within the museums are not open for everyone, and the last thing a museum can be attributed to is inclusiveness (Falk, 2016). The decision about institutionalisation of art and display of the materials still lies with the highest authorities, and the population does not get a chance of deciding “democratically” about the displays of the museum. So there is no participation in the process. The institute which does not have popular participation cannot be termed as “for everyone”. Therefore the question still prevails about museums are for everyone or not.

 “Records act as instruments of power”. This is one of the very important inferences that can be deduced from studying the various trends of archives around the world. There is a tendency of the more powerful section to design history as they like and present that history to the larger section of the society through the museums. Therefore the museums are instruments to design power dynamics within the society. These are used to make the grand narratives as the only narratives to be heard and all other views about history to be side-lined and unimportant. This is the problem with institutionalising the system of archival in the hands of one section, the administrative section, and the administrative section is always the more powerful section within the society.

The historical narratives however have some very contradicting schools of thoughts that have contributed in their own way of describing the history of the world. The communist version of history and the liberalist version of history are two different historical narratives that have described the world view in their own ways. The explanation of arts and artefacts are also different in these two very different schools of historical thoughts.

Though it is claimed that the “museums are for everyone” however there is strict surveillance by the state about the contents of the museums and what is being displayed within the museums. The narrative must conform to that given by the state as the “grand narrative”. There is a difference between what is this grand narrative according to different schools of historians.  Therefore though the museums are claimed to be for everyone, the real truth is often not similar to the claim.

Reference:

Alexander, E. P., Alexander, M., & Decker, J. (2017). Museums in motion: An introduction to the history and functions of museums. Rowman & Littlefield.

Amundsen, A. (2011). National Museums in Norway. Ep.liu.se. Retrieved 24 April 2018, from https://www.ep.liu.se/ecp/064/027/ecp64027.pdf

Archives.gov. (1776). Declaration of Independence: A Transcription. Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript

Aronsson, P. (2014). Explaining national museums. National museums: New studies from around the world, 29-54.

Dieckhoff, A., & Gutiérrez, N. (2017). Modern roots: studies of national identity. Taylor & Francis.

Falk, J. H. (2016). Identity and the museum visitor experience. Routledge.

Fladmark, J. M. (2015). Heritage and museums: Shaping national identity. Routledge.

Gundersen, J., Rasmussen, J. M., & Lie, R. O. (2016). Private metal detecting and archaeology in Norway. Open Archaeology, 2(1).

Hammar, T. (2017). Democracy and the nation state. Routledge.

Herzfeld, M. (2014). Cultural intimacy: Social poetics in the nation-state. Routledge.

Historyguide.org. (1789). Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (August 1789). Retrieved from https://www.historyguide.org/intellect/declaration.html

Ketelaar, E. (2006). The panoptical archive. In Archives, documentation, and institutions of social memory: Essays from the Sawyer seminar (pp. 144-150).

Knell, S. (2014). National museums and the national imagination. In National Museums (pp. 23-48). Routledge.

Kulturradet.no. (2003). Immateriell kulturarv i Norge - Publikasjoner - kulturradet.no. Retrieved from https://www.kulturradet.no/vis-publikasjon/-/immateriell-kulturarv-i-norge

 Rees, M. (2017). Museums as catalysts for change. Nature Climate Change, 7(3), 166.

Smith, A. D. (2017). Interpretations of national identity. In Modern Roots (pp. 21-42). Routledge.

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