A museum is an institution dedicated to collecting, preserving, researching and interpreting cultural or natural heritage and making it available for education and enjoyment. It is a non-profit, permanent organization in the service of society and its development, open to the public and supported by the government or other institutions. It researches, collects, conserves, communicates and exhibits both tangible and intangible heritage, for education, research, enjoyment and reflection. It operates and communicates ethically, professionally, and with the participation of communities.
A modern museum reflects the broadening scope of human culture, while its origins lie in the earliest propensities of humans to acquire and collect, and to inquire about their environment and communication of that inquiry. The earliest evidence of collections, and of preservation and communication of the results of those inquiries can be found in cave and mound art, or in Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets, or in Roman coinage. In its modern form the museum has developed to reflect a wide variety of interests, cultures and peoples, and encompasses a huge array of objects and activities.
Despite their different subject matters, museums have much in common. They all aim to educate, entertain and engage; broadening the horizons of those who walk through their doors. Museums can make us feel a sense of awe, or be a place of quiet contemplation. They can be hushed halls that smell of old books and dust, or noisy centers full of children running hither and yon. They can contain revered works of art, or collections of living insects.
While museums vary in their subject matter and size, they all share an underlying purpose: to make the past come alive for today’s audiences. It is for this reason that the world’s best museums are the most popular. The Louvre, for example, nabbed the top spot on a new global survey of the world’s most visited museums, based on ticket sales, revenue and visitor numbers. This massive Paris museum has a staggering collection of art, with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa among the many treasures to be admired.
The survey of the world’s most visited museums also looked at other factors, including reputation, educational activities and resources, architecture, and location. It was conducted by the RAND Corporation and commissioned by the International Council of Museums. The survey is the most comprehensive of its kind to date, and includes more than 22,000 museums in 103 countries. The survey is available online at www.museumsreview.com. The data is compiled from a combination of public and proprietary sources. The survey is updated regularly to ensure accuracy and reliability. Merriam-Webster’s Editors note that the examples in this article are programmatically curated and may not represent all usage currently observed by our editorial staff. As such, the examples should be viewed as guidelines rather than definitive statements of current Merriam-Webster usage. The dictionary’s editorial team welcomes feedback on these or any other examples in our database of usage samples. Please send us your comments by using our contact page.