Museums, History and Culture in Malaysia

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By Abu Talib Ahmad

During the half century following Malaysian independence in 1957, the country's National Museum underwent a transformation that involved a shift from serving as a repository for displays of mounted butterflies and stuffed animals and accounts of the colonial experience to an overarching national narrative focused on culture and history. These topics are sensitive and highly disputed in Malaysia, and many of the country's museums contest the narrative that underlies displays in the National Museum, offering alternative treatments of subjects such as Malaysia's pre-Islamic past, the history and heritage of the Melaka sultanate, memories of the Japanese Occupation, national cultural policy, and cultural differences between the Federation's constituent states.

In Museums, History and Culture in Malaysia, Abu Talib Ahmad examines museum displays throughout the country, and uses textual analysis of museum publications along with interviews with serving and retired museum officers to evaluate changing approaches to exhibits and the tensions that they express, or sometimes create. In addition to the National Museum, he considers museums and memorials in Penang, Kedah, Perak, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Sabah, Kelantan and Terengganu, as well as memorials dedicated to national heroes (such as former Prime Ministers Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, and film and recording artist P. Ramlee). The book offers rich and fascinating insights into differing versions of the country's character and historical experience, and efforts to reconcile these sometimes disparate accounts.

"...from the outset a valuable contribution to Malaysian cultural studies." - Sharmani Patricia Gabriel, University of Malaya

"This book is a significant addition to the study of the way the past is represented in museums and is comparable in quality to the best studies done on museums in other Asian countries and in the West. It is an essential read for students and researchers in the area of both museum studies and Malaysian historiography." Kevin Blackburn

“This absorbing read is the direct result of Abu Talib Ahmad’s rigorous scholarship and ability to present his work in a clearly written and thus easily comprehensible style. This book is highly recommended not only to specialists in museum studies, but to anyone interested in understanding the dynamics that shape the history and culture of Malaysia.” Cynthia Chou

"... Talib Ahmad’s book is useful and very well written, accessible to specialists, enthusiasts, and the general reader. It is to be welcomed by both historians and anyone interested in Malaysian history and society." A. B. Shamul

Abu Talib Ahmad is professor of Southeast Asian History at the School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).

Publication Year: 2014
344 pages, 229mm x 152mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-819-5, Paperback

NUS Press