Matagorda County Museum Our Blog What is a Museum?

What is a Museum?

0 Comments 05:19

Museums around the world are sanctuaries of history and art; spaces that invite people to slow down, look closely, and gain new perspectives on everything from ancient civilisations to contemporary works and complex conflicts. For those who think a visit to a museum is just about walking through a crowded space, they haven’t experienced museums at their best. In fact, a great museum can inspire you in ways that even a movie or book cannot.

But not all museums are created equal. There are different types of museums that offer visitors unique experiences, and they differ in how they define themselves and their purpose. But the common thread between them is that they are all concerned with preserving and interpreting the primary tangible evidence of human culture and the natural world.

Unlike the library, which can be thought of as a storehouse of information, a museum is distinguished by its focus on primary evidence that conveys meaning through touch, sight, and sound. Museums also differ from other educational institutions in that they are primarily open to the general public, and charge an admission fee (although some are free). Museums may be governmental, non-governmental or nonprofit organizations, and may be private, family, corporate, or university-owned.

The word museum derives from the Greek Mouseion, which was a seat of the Muses—the nine sister goddesses who inspired artists and philosophers of the classical era. It was later adapted in Latin to become the more familiar Museum, and it has been used since to refer to institutions that house collections for the benefit of the public.

Although there are many different definitions of a museum, the leading professional bodies have agreed on a few essential points. The definition should be public and based on an interdisciplinary approach to interpreting cultural heritage; a museum should be an active learning centre; and a museum should not engage in the buying or selling of objects.

A specialised type of museum is the heritage museum, which is a place that is dedicated to preserving and interpreting a particular historic site, building or object. Examples include the Alamo in San Antonio, the Giddings Stone Mansion in Brenham, and the Emancipation Park in Houston.

In response to the expressed need for greater transparency and consultation in the process of reformulating the museum definition, the MDPP2 Standing Committee formulated a new methodology going forward. The methodology is available for members to review in the ICOM Define space, which includes all the documents from the Museum Definition reformulation project since Kyoto 2019.

Several ICOM committees worked on drafting a definition proposal and were given the opportunity to rank them during Consultation 2. These proposals will now be analysed and further developed to form the new definition that will be submitted to the next ICOM General Conference in 2022. The process will be guided by the new definition framework, which reflects a shift from an object-based to a context-based approach. The new framework will be published at the end of the consultation process.