Public History and the Geopolitics of Memory in Russian, Chinese and Korean Frontier Museums

The frontier encompassing Russia, China and the Korean peninsula is a region of political and economic competition, ethno-cultural diversity, mobile populations and shifting borders. Present-day narratives of cooperative development coexist with historical memories of imperial conflict. These states balance the rhetoric of regional integration to international audiences with the enhancement of domestic patriotism. Public history becomes a battleground where these tensions are played out.

This project analyses how public history is presented in frontier museums of the Russian Far East (RFE), Manchuria and South Korea, benefitting from the linguistic and fieldwork expertise of both researchers, who have considerable experience in the region. It examines how historical narratives of 17th to 20th-Century imperial competition are selectively packaged for domestic visitors or transborder tourists. Furthermore, it explores how conflict over territory and cultural inheritance is read back even into the pre-modern history of Goguryeo and Balhae. It therefore contributes significantly to geopolitical discussions on Sino-Russian relations as an “Axis of Convenience”.

Initial research was conducted in the RFE and Heilongjiang in 2019. It revealed deliberate ambiguity, even factual manipulation, in Russian state museum narratives of border demarcation and colonial settlement. Manchurian museums combined a celebration of Russian influence with anti-Russian, nationalist messages. Funding is sought to expand fieldwork into Jilin, Inner Mongolia and Korea. The Russian findings have been solicited by Eurasian Geography and Economics; Chinese and Korean material will yield at least two further publications. The project culminates in a joint Exeter-Geneva workshop on historical memory and public history.

Participants

Mr Iacopo Adda, PhD Candidate, University of Geneva, Global Studies Institute

Dr Yuexin Rachel Lin, University of Exeter, Department of History