Erkki Viitasaari Will Defend Doctoral Dissertation

TIME: Monday 19.6.2023, 13:00
VENUE: Porthania, auditorio PIII, Yliopistonkatu 3
     Erkki Viitasaari will defend the doctoral dissertation entitled “Legitimizing an Existence among Giants – National Museums in Singapore, Brunei, Taiwan, and Palau” in the Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki, on 19 June 2023 at 13:00. Professor Kirk Denton, Ohio State University, will serve as the opponent, and Tiina Airaksinen as the custos.
     The focus of Viitasaari’s study is on three nations in Asia and one in the Pacific region: Singapore, Brunei, Taiwan, and Palau. Two historical period have been chosen for closer scrutiny. Early history plays an important role in creating a national identity and thus in the exhibitions of national museums. First, because sources are few and mostly legendary, this period of time allows for many interpretations. Second, the first steps of a nation have an enormous symbolic significance and the entire official national historical narrative is shaped strongly into the direction of the chosen origin story or myth. Third, early history is easy to ignore or downplay if this fits a certain preferred agenda.
     The Japanese period in the histories of the case studies varied from a few years to several decades. In some places, foreign presence brought progress and economical prosperity, in other, misery as a result of exploitation and underdevelopment. In some cases, the Japanese era was a period of occupation, in other, a longer and more sustainable process.
     Singapore, the epitome of nation-building, and its national museum have received the most scholarly attention out of the four case studies. During its heyday the sultanate of Brunei controlled the entire island of Borneo, but now it often escapes academic attention. The same royal family has been in power since the foundation of the sultanate in the 14th century. Taiwan and especially its indigenous population are relatively well studied. The Japanese presence on the island lasted for five decades. The national museum in Koror is virtually unstudied academically.
     Viitasaari’s study showcases how different the approaches that national museums select can be when displaying certain time periods and ingredients that form the official national identity. The exhibitions not only tell a story of what the political and ideological biases are at the moment, but also relay deeper cultural identities and societal traits.