Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Art and Visual Culture


Dr. Bridget Elliott


Historic house museums are a common, if often overlooked, feature of the Canadian heritage landscape. As national historic sites, and community museums, they address cultural, social, historical and political facets of the past. Pursuing the idea of the house/museum hybrid, this study examines the house museum as a distinct museological type. Chapter One defines house museums both in relation and opposition to encyclopedic, folk, decorative and collection museums, period rooms, model and heritage homes and other sites of living history. It reviews architectural, commemorative and preservation histories to outline the conditions that encouraged their development from the West coast (British Columbia) to the East (Nova Scotia). Chapter Two argues that house museums are part of a broader network of home representations. It demonstrates that they are representations of the domestic environments of the past, which are also responsible for generating and preserving photographs, models, floor plans, blueprints, paintings, prints and drawings of private interiors, imagined dwellings and residential architectures. Case studies are used to show that house museums are constructed, saved, explained, validated, funded and marketed through a range of home representations. Chapter Three looks at multisensory exhibits, interactive displays and participative programs at house museums across Canada to highlight the tensions between conservation concerns and the quality of visitor experiences at these sites. It investigates how house museums have reacted to the tenets of a new museology and an Experience Economy, which emphasize participative involvement, active learning and immersive experience, often at the expense of conservation. Chapter Four acknowledges that many historic homes have been refashioned as birthplace museums and shrines for individual legacies. It interrogates the relationship between house museums and their key interpretive figures by examining discourses and histories that position individuals and their iii homes as integrated subjects. Moreover, it contends that house museums structured around a single historical figure tend to be exclusionary, and reductive of complex narratives. As a whole, the thesis considers the topics of representation, preservation and interpretation to remark upon the function and future of house museums in Canada.