Canadian War Museum

Recipient of the 2012 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Museums: History Alive!

November 27, 2012

Canada's History speaks to staff at the Canadian War Museum about their collaborative "human library."

Ottawa (Ontario)

Bringing history to life is at the heart of an innovative program hosted by the Canadian War Museum, in partnership with the Ottawa Public Library and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Human Library, a widespread concept around the world, was presented for the first time in our nation’s capital in January 2012, with the objective of creating community connections between readers and “human books.”

Indeed, over 60 people from the National Capital Region volunteered to become a borrowed “book” for a day and share their diverse pasts and knowledge related to the history of conflicts around the world. Each “conversation” with visitors lasted approximately 20 minutes.

Readers had the opportunity to meet Irena Szpak, trained as a messenger for the Polish resistance and who survived a work camp in Germany before emigrating to Canada; or Nelson Langevin, who signed up with the navy in the 1940s where he quickly learned the reality of war in Dieppe, Algeria and Sicily; or even Karen Bailey, whose life was forever changed when she was sent to Afghanistan after joining the Canadian Forces Artists Program in 2007.

The innovative quality of the Human Library allowed the “readers” to gain an even deeper understanding of our country’s response to conflict, while creating lasting personal connections. The project truly made history come alive and was exemplary with respect to its inclusiveness, community impact and collaborative approach. The jury is honoured to reward the Canadian War Museum with the 2012 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Museums: History Alive!

Skip social share links