Dr. Laura Hanks | University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

Narrative, Story and Discourse as Manifest in the Contemporary Museum

Following on from the 2010 conference, Narrative Space, this paper seeks to explore the complex set of relations between narrative, story and discourse as manifest in the contemporary museum.  It takes the analysis of Chatman in, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film, as its starting point and considers the proposed division of narrative into ‘story’ and ‘discourse’ Chatman’s structure creates a barrier between ‘content’ and ‘expression’, which is explored and problematised.  Rather degrees of congruence between these are considered, and at the far end of this scale, the desirability of complete congruence between ‘story’ and ‘discourse’ – where in Marshall McLuhan’s terms, ‘the medium is the message’ – is also challenged.

In order to further the exploration, a particular case study – the Novium in Chichester, England – is critiqued.  The new museum building by Keith Williams was opened in July 2012, and sited in the heart of both Roman and twenty-first century Chichester, it straddles a sizeable existent portion of a much larger former Roman bathhouse complex.  The contents and stories are clearly visible in a deep archaeological pit, ‘which now reveals the Roman remains, 1.5 metres below street level, enclosed by glass cases holding the bits and bobs dropped by the last bathers almost 2,000 years ago: dress pins, ointment and oil jars, a regimental badge’. The paper will focus on the physical and conceptual expressions that the architects and curators have chosen to reveal this content, paying particular attention to the material detailing of joints between old and new, the exhibition’s design, the immediate site’s former users and contemporary audiences, and the wider historic identity of the city in relation to its current life and use.  It will question the discourses employed to reveal the architectural and artefactual stories of the museum, and ultimately the independence, or interdependence, of these.