Matagorda County Museum Our Blog What Is a Museum?

What Is a Museum?



Museums are institutions that care for and display objects of cultural, artistic, scientific, or historical importance. They are found in major cities and small towns around the world. They are usually free to visit and open to the public.

A museum is a place where you can learn about the history of the world and its people. It is also where you can see the world’s most famous art and sculptures.

Unlike a library, which is primarily concerned with the storage of information, a museum preserves and interprets primary tangible evidence about the world and its people. This can be in the form of artifacts, documents, and objects from nature or human society.

The history of museums dates back to early times. Collections of items that have religious, magical, economic, aesthetic, or historical value, as well as curiosities, have been made and accumulated by individuals and groups throughout the world.

Some collections were even dedicated to a particular religion, such as those of the ancient Greeks or Romans. Other collections were created to gather natural and human artifacts from distant lands, such as Ole Worm’s collection of curiosities in Copenhagen or John Tradescant’s array of artifacts in Lambeth (now a London borough).

In the 18th century, Napoleon I used the concept of a museum as an agent of nationalistic fervor and collected his own treasures to create a national museum. The collections he assembled were not only magnificent, but also difficult to organize.

Today, the term “museum” is often applied to any institution that cares for and displays a collection of objects from different cultures, places, or time periods. However, there are a number of challenges in defining this concept and determining what should be considered a museum.

First, the definition of a museum should be rooted in the scientific method and be grounded in provenance. In science, this means that the items on display have been gathered using a systematic process such as fieldwork or archival research, or that they have been documented in some other way.

Second, a museum should be a space for critical dialogue about the past and future. It should acknowledge and address the conflicts and challenges of the present and be open to diverse communities.

Finally, a museum should be democratic and transparent. It should work in partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit and enhance understandings of the world, aiming to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.

A new definition of the museum has been proposed by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). It asks museums to cede their institutional authority to their communities and shift their goal from transmitting expert knowledge to fostering dialogue and connection.

The new ICOM definition proposes that a museum is an institution that holds artefacts and specimens in trust for society, safeguards diverse memories for future generations, and guarantees equal rights and access to heritage for all. This is a significant change from the old ICOM definition which stated that museums acquire the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment, which was perceived as an end in itself.