Matagorda County Museum Our Blog Museums in the 21st Century

Museums in the 21st Century

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When people hear the word museum, they often think of a place filled with art, history, and culture. The best museums in the world beckon visitors to explore new cultures and have exhibitions that are memorable and thought-provoking. The naysayers who claim that museum experiences are boring are missing out on some of the most fulfilling places in the world.

The museum has a long and varied history, reflecting what may be an innate human desire to collect and interpret. The word itself has classical origins; its Greek form was mouseion and it became museum in Latin. The first museums were largely places for the display of collections. These were collections of objects that had religious, magical, economic, aesthetic or historical value or that simply constituted curiosities, housed in treasuries and exhibited to the public, usually for a fee.

Museums have since evolved to become primarily educational institutions. This evolution has occurred in response to the need for museums to reach new audiences, and to change the perceptions that some adults have of them as being “stuffy” and “child-like”.

In the 18th century, the great museums of Europe began to focus more on serving the general public rather than just scholars. This reflected the growing appreciation of the value of museum collections for their educational and cultural significance. Museums started to hire educators to develop facilities and programmes for the benefit of the public, scientists as conservators, designers for exhibits, information managers to handle scientific data inherent in collections and even marketers to promote them. This was a perceptible shift from museums essentially being academic institutions that served the scholar.

While defining the role of museums as educational institutions has helped them attract and maintain the attention of many adults, it is not without its challenges. Too many adults see museums as “educational” in a negative way and do not want to go to them. Museums can address this by showing that education does not have to be stuffy and that there are different kinds of learning.

In 2021, the Museum Definition Task Force of ICOM Define began work on developing a new definition of museum that would reflect the changing roles of museums in the 21st century. This process involved extensive consultations with the National Committees, International Committees, and Affiliated Organisations that make up ICOM. A result of this work is the proposal for a new definition for museum, which will be put to a vote at the Extraordinary General Assembly during ICOM Prague 2022. Click here to read the full proposal for the museum definition. The definition has also been translated into five languages. The translations have been made available to all ICOM members. The next phase of the museum definition process will include consultations on a draft framework, and the creation of a working group to develop proposals for future implementation of the definition in partnership with all ICOM stakeholders. This will be done in accordance with ICOM’s commitment to inclusivity, transparency and participation.