Celebrating Museum day!

Museum photo

Today is the International Museum Day. There are at least 55,000 museums in the World, according to ICOM (International Council of Museums), and many of them are organising activities or exhibitions for this special day. It is a great opportunity to visit one (or several) of them today, but also to learn more about these unique places of research and education.

History of museums

The word “Museum” comes from the greek word Μουσεῖον (Mouseion), a temple dedicated to the Muses (Divinities of Arts and Sciences). These temples were filled with offering to the Muses ranging from work of Art to engineering marvels. “Mouseions” were the ancestors of museums.

The first museum per se, was the Ennigaldi-Nanna’s museum, which was curated by Princess Enigaldi in Mesopotamia (nowadays Iraq) circa 530 BC. It displayed archeological artefacts, with clay museum label written in three languages.

Later in the Antiquity, another museum, the Musaeum or Mouseion at Alexandria (which included the Library) was created by Ptolemy I Soter around 300 BC. It was the first museum to house both a collection and scholars doing research on this collection. It probably declined earlier, but completely disappeared, along with its research practise, in the fire of the Library.

Museums reemerged almost two millennia later in the Renaissance, in the form of Curiosity cabinets. They were collections of objects with no clear categorical boundaries, and were supposed to be the physical Encyclopedia. These cabinets were private, which meant that they were only accessible to their owners and their guests. Furthermore, most of them were not studied at all.

In the 18th and 19th century, several museums, such as the Louvre (Paris), the British Museum (London), the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Paris), or the Rijksmuseum (the Hague and then Amsterdam), opened their doors with public exhibitions. The objects began to be displayed and studied again. From this moment on, museums have been a place of research and non-formal education, with a real emphasis on the latter since the middle of the 20th century. The learning takes place through the objects from the collection, offering the learners a first hand experience (Museum and Education by Prabhas Kumar Singh), and a holistic approach (The Educational Role of the Museum, by Eilean Hooper-Greenhill).

Museums today

Today, a museum is defined as follows: “A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment” (ICOM 22nd General Assembly, Vienna, Austria, 24 August 2007).

Many museums also hold conferences/courses and/or deliver degrees, but all of them are places of research and education (non-formal education), which are based on their collections (objects). Thus, the concept of “education through objects“:

While the buildings, the sites and the analysis of museums as cultural organisations have great educational potential, much teaching and learning in museums and galleries focuses on the collections. Learning from objects can be uniquely holistic. It can encompass skills development (including those of literacy and numeracy); increase knowledge and awareness; offer experiences that illuminate personal relevance and that ground abstract concepts; and enable social learning. – Excerpt from The Educational Role of the Museum, by Eilean Hooper-Greenhill

Education through objects: Museum objects are important part of the cultural and natural heritage of a country. They act as important means of work and represent the basis of work, an object of research for various technical, social and natural science branches such as botany, zoology, history, history of art, archaeology, ethnography, etc. Objects can make unique contribution to our understanding of the working of individuals and societies. In short, it can tell us more about ourselves. Hence, we collect objects to show illustrative examples of societies and individuals. Learning directly from the objects provide an first hand experience to the learners. For example an individual who has seen and handle few fossils or examined an exhibit showing how fossils are formed would have a better knowledge about fossils then those who have only read about them. Sensory experiences form the basis of museum education. – Excerpt from Museum and Education by Prabhas Kumar Singh

Museum Day 2018

There is a tendency towards more interactivity and connectivity, as reflected by this year Museum Day’s theme “Hyperconnected Museums: New Approaches, New Publics”. To find out which events are available at your location, consult the Museum Day World Map, the International Museum Day page on Facebook, or search Twitter for #MuseumDay hashtag and your location. 

For more info about museums, check out these two TED-ED videos: