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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

7 - Museums

Summary

Introduction

Once largely seen as institutions catering to school visits and elite scholarship, museums have been reinventing themselves. As Western countries embrace multiculturalism and as financial support for the arts dwindles, museums have become both more sensitive to their diverse communities and alive to the challenges of fund-raising and commercial ventures. These developments have spurred reexaminations of the laws and policies surrounding museum governance – as we have seen, for example, in the return of objects to indigenous peoples and victims of Nazi-era confiscations. Museums have also been engaged in debates about controversial exhibitions and the appropriate missions they should pursue.

There is no definitive legal or even factual definition of a museum. Nevertheless, although the basic concept of a museum has changed over time, it retains the scholarly cast of the word's origin in the Greek mouseion, meaning “seat of the Muses.” It is also understood that modern museums have two basic dimensions: a physical manifestation – usually a building enclosing objects of certain kinds – and an intellectual dimension that expresses the purposes for which the objects in the building's collection are preserved and complemented over time.

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