Canmore author Robert Janes.Photo Submitted

What role do museums play in keeping society from the edge of collapse?

If you ask Canmore author Robert Janes – a potentially pivotal one.

Janes latest book, Museums and Societal Collapse: The Museum as Lifeboat explores the institutions as unlikely heroes making a difference in the lives of individuals and their communities by taking a stand on issues like global warming, political conflict and social crises.

“It’s not just about education. It’s not just about entertainment; it’s not about earned revenues; it’s not about exhibitions,” said Janes. “I think that it involves museums being a public advocate, and by that I mean museums sitting down and having some serious conversations with their staff and the public about key moral and civic issues, identifying where the museum has some strengths and some knowledge, and then make a commitment to those key civic and moral issues.”

With 48 years of experience working with museums in Canada and internationally as a director, consultant, editor, archaeologist, board member, teacher, volunteer, and philanthropist, Janes’ career is dedicated to championing museums as societal changemakers.

The diversity of the institutions – each one specialized by its collection, history, locality and subject matter experts – gives strength to this argument and the unique role and knowledge each museum has, Janes said.

“There are so many different kinds of museums; they’re all grounded in certain traditional assumptions like collecting objects and bearing witness by assembling evidence and knowledge to make things known to visitors, but nonetheless, that diversity is key,” he said.

According to UNESCO, there are 95,000 museums worldwide. The Canmore author notes the potential of each one being more like public storefronts of knowledge interacting with their communities.

“I think most importantly, now, [museums] are really seedbanks of sustainable living practices that have guided our species for millennia. … I think museum collections may be providing a lot of insight as we begin to adapt to an uncertain future where it appears to me that we’re going to have to learn to live with a lot less than what we’re living with now, and I think museums can help that,” said Janes.

Museums and Societal Collapse: The Museum as Lifeboat by Robert Janes.

Museums and Societal Collapse identifies six categories key societal threats fall under from civilizational overshoot to ecomodernism.

The book references sustainability organization The Global Footprint Network, which calculates Earth’s population of over eight billion people is depleting nature at a rate 1.75 times higher than what the planet can sustain.

Living in the Bow Valley, Janes has a particular interest in sustainability issues facing this part of the world.

Although nature stares every Bow Valley resident in the face every day, he said there is a disconnect between civilization and culture and environment, and museums have a responsibility to help bridge those gaps.

Janes pointed to Three Sisters Mountain Village in Canmore and the threat two recently adopted ASPs pose to wildlife and environment.

“I think it’s a classic example of how divorced we are from the natural world and I think museums have to help repair that wound if we’re going to expect to survive as a species,” he said. “There are characteristics of museums that I think can help us with the state of the world, irrespective of the subject matter.”

Museums and Societal Collapse: The Museum as Lifeboat is available to purchase online through academic publisher Routledge at or on Amazon and Indigo.

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 05, 2024 at 11:22

This item reprinted with permission from   Rocky Mountain Outlook   Canmore, Alberta

Comments are Welcome - Use the 'Join the Discussion' above any replies, or 'TheRegional / Chat' below replies. Both links take you to the same place. You will be asked to become a registered user if you are not one already - Posts are moderated