A museum is a permanent institution that is open to the public that preserves, protects, and communicates the intangible heritage of humanity. It may also include living museums. This definition applies without regard to its governing body and does not depend on its functional or territorial structure. Its focus on the preservation of historical objects and cultural objects may be local, regional, or international.
There are several different types of museums, each with different goals and philosophies. Many are founded with civic pride and a desire to promote local knowledge. Others are established for political, religious, or nationalistic purposes. There are also specialized museums that highlight a specific area of the world. These museums may offer a unique perspective on local cultures.
Before the Second World War, museums were often used as centers of innovative research. Although universities took over the role, museums continue to contribute new knowledge to their fields and build collections that can be used for research and display. This is a key characteristic of modern museums. However, the concept of a museum has undergone some controversy.
Today, many cities are turning to museums as a form of economic development. They believe that museums can help revitalize post-industrial areas. There are many examples around the world of museums fulfilling these roles. In Bilbao, Spain, for instance, the Basque regional government agreed to pay $100 million to build a museum that embodies its culture and history. This project was controversial, but it has paid off financially for the city, as 1.1 million visitors visited the museum last year.
The British Museum contains over eight million items, and only a fraction of them are on display. Museums also offer educational programs to attract a variety of audiences. The public can attend lectures and tutorials by field experts, or watch films, dance, and music performances. Many museums focus on the culture of the area that hosts their exhibitions.
The term museum was first used in Europe in the seventeenth century. A collection of objects from the city of Copenhagen was called a museum, while a collection in Lambeth was referred to as Musaeum Tradescantianum. The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England opened to the public in 1683.
Many cities have children’s museums where children can engage with hands-on activities. Children can also visit natural museums, which exhibit various creatures. There are also space museums and science museums. The last two provide more specialized experiences that allow kids to develop their imaginations. The American Alliance of Museums estimates that US museums spend over $2 billion annually on educational activities.