Museum, institution dedicated to helping people understand and appreciate the natural world, the history of civilizations, and the record of humanity’s artistic, scientific, and technological achievements. Museums collect objects of scientific, aesthetic, or historical importance; care for them; and study, interpret, and exhibit them for the purposes of public education and the advancement of knowledge. There are museums in almost every major city in the world and in many smaller communities as well. Museums offer many benefits to their visitors, their communities, and society as a whole. As educational institutions, they offer unparalleled opportunities for self-directed learning and exploration by people of diverse ages, interests, backgrounds, and abilities. They are public gathering places where visitors can be entertained, inspired, and introduced to new ideas. Museums enrich local cultural life and make communities more appealing places to live and to visit. For society as a whole, museums provide valuable intangible benefits as sources of national, regional, and local identity. They have the singular capacity to reflect both continuity and change, to preserve and protect cultural and natural heritage while vividly illustrating the progression of the human imagination and the natural world. This article provides an overview of the different types of museums and explains how they acquire, care for, and exhibit their collections. It also discusses educational programs at museums and profiles museum staff and professional organizations. Other sections of the article trace the history of museums and outline the major trends and challenges facing museums today. Finally, the article describes major museums in countries throughout the world. HISTORY OF MUSEUMS
Museums stem from the age-old human desires to preserve cultural identity; gain social, political, and economic status; and pursue knowledge. The word museum—first used in English in the 17th century—derives from the Greek mouseion, meaning “seat of the Muses.” In ancient Greece, mouseions were temples or sacred places dedicated to the nine goddesses of the fine arts and sciences, which later became repositories for the gifts and offerings of devotees. Although museums are primarily Western in origin, the concept behind museums has long been evident in other cultures. In the Cross River region of West Africa, for instance, certain masks were given to a tribal elder or other responsible person for safekeeping. As early as the mid-16th century bc in China, treasured objects were often deposited in temples and tombs, and the ruling class had treasured collections. In ancient India, paintings were installed in galleries called chitrashalas for the education and enjoyment of the public. The First Museums
The earliest museums resembled today’s libraries and scholarly institutes and were established as sources of inspiration and enlightenment. At his capital city of Tall al ‘Amārinah in Egypt, Pharoah Akhenaton (ruler from about 1353 to 1335 bc) erected a large library in which he stored the many gifts and tributes that allied rulers and subject peoples had given him. The term mouseion was first applied to a state-supported research institute in Alexandria, Egypt, founded by King Ptolemy I early in the 3rd century bc to foster scientific studies. The Museum of Alexandria, as it is now known, was dedicated primarily to learning and attracted the finest scholars in science, philosophy, literature, and art. The community included apartments, a dining hall, lecture hall, cloister, botanical garden, zoological park, and astronomical observatory. Objects such as surgical and astronomical instruments, animal hides, elephant tusks, statues, and portrait busts were also housed there and used for teaching. The famous library of Alexandria was part of the museum and contained a huge collection of manuscripts from the Greek world. The museum and most of its library were...
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