Why Are Museums Important?

Topics: Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum Pages: 7 (2906 words) Published: October 8, 1999
The Cambridge Dictionary Online defined museums as "places of study, buildings where objects of historical, scientific or artistic interest are kept, preserved and exhibited". To The Museums Association, a museum is "an institution which collects documents, preserves, exhibits and interprets material evidence and associated information for the public benefit". Since 1998, this definition has changed. Museums now enable the public to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. They are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society. Mike Wallace (1996) categorised museums into four distinct types, namely National Museums that hold collection of national importance, Armed Service Museums, Independence Museums and Local Authority Museums. According to Wallace, the importance of museums lies in their role as a nation's memory bank. Personally, what matters most about museums is that they are the only source of "living history" and perhaps an insight to the future world that lies before us. History should be displayed for study not only because it is essential to individuals and to society, but also because it harbours beauty.

Museums provide an ideal learning environment, whether it is formal or informal learning, active hands-on participation or passive observation (Hein, G. E, 1998). In The British Museum, each of the museums curatorial departments offers student research facilities, for instance Ancient Near East, Egyptian Antiquities, Japanese Antiquities, Medieval and Modern Europe and Prehistory and Early Europe. The Education Department even set aside "Study days" to allow more intensive exploration of the cultural background to an exhibition or area of the collections and they usually include slide lectures and gallery talks. In addition, The Education Department provides a range of services for teachers to help enhance students' experience of the Museum and about the cultures represented in the Museum's collections. The 2000/2001 brochure, listing events and resources for teachers and students, is promised to be available soon. Majority of the other museums also provide such educational services to the public. The National Museum of the Performing Arts has an Education Department that runs an annual programme of activities designed to support teachers in the delivery of the National Curriculum and to trigger the interest of their pupils in the performing arts. These activities complement study programmes in a range of core subjects including English, Drama, Theatre Studies, Design and Technology, History, Art, Music and Social Sciences. A greater number of educators are looking to museums to help them attain their educational objectives. Howard Gardner has identified Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood as the perfect environment for stimulating the natural curiosity of a child. Furthermore, in response to demands for new educational approaches, older children are using museums to develop their critical facilities in art and design (Campbell, 1992).

Hooper-Greenhill (1994) places high importance in the role of museums as they offer many different opportunities of enabling children and adults to enter worlds where they may play out skills that are vital in the real worlds. With the rise of technology, museums are able to provide the mass with interactive education. The Clore Education Centre in The National History Museum has an "Investigate" area which is a hands-on science centre. Visitors can experience hundreds of natural objects and investigate them further using scientific tools and instruments that are provided to encourage visitors to make observations, look for relationships and draw their own conclusions. The National Science Museum can be said to be one of the most interactive museums in Britain. Their large number of interactive galleries include The Launch Pad and Flight Lab, The Garden and a...

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  • Edson, G. (ed.) (1997). Museum Ethics. London: Routledge.

  • Hooper-Greenhill, E. (1994). Museums and their Visitors. London: Routledge.

  • Hudson, K. (1987). Museums of Influence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Kushner, T. (1994). The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination: A social and Cultural History. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Richard, Crownshaw. (1999). The Media in Britain. Ethnic Identity and Cultural Heritage: Belsen in the Museum. Edited by Jane Stokes and Anna Reading. Macmillian Press.

  • Wilson, D.M. (1989). The British Museum: Purpose and Politics. London: British Museum Press.
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