What Is a Museum?


Throughout history, museums have been created to preserve artifacts, create a sense of place, serve as educational resources, and engage communities. These types of institutions can also serve as a way to enhance civic pride, and create unity on a political level. They also are increasingly being used as economic development tools.

A museum is a permanent, not-for-profit, non-government institution that preserves, interprets, and provides knowledge about the tangible and intangible heritage of humankind. It typically has a director or other high-ranking member who manages the institution. Most museums do not allow visitors to view artifacts or interact with them directly. However, some museums actively engage with social issues.

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) is a Paris-based nonprofit that represents the interests of museums around the world. It is currently in the process of developing a new definition of a museum. This definition will be submitted for vote at ICOM’s General Conference in 2022. In the process of developing this definition, the ICOM’s executive board decided to hold consultations with a committee. This committee worked for months to develop five proposals that they submitted to the executive board. The committee received responses from 23 national committees and one working group. After the committee’s proposal was chosen, the executive board asked members of the committee to comment on the proposal. The responses will help the committee in future consultations.

According to ICOM’s definition, museums are institutions that preserve and interpret material evidence of human activity. These items are unique and communicate directly with the viewer. They also represent human understanding and knowledge throughout the world.

Museums are primarily secular spaces for public engagement. They may have different departments that focus on specific subject matters, such as science, history, and architecture. Some large museums even have research divisions. In these institutions, curators often study the objects and share their knowledge with the public.

Modern museums are based on the Enlightenment and focus on Europe. However, the museum model is also useful in other areas of the world. For example, in post-industrial cities, museums can serve as recreation centers and economic development tools.

The museum model is also useful as a site for self-definition in non-Western countries. However, escalating tensions between nations and political parties is affecting many of these communities. These tensions are particularly problematic as the issues of race, class, and gender become polarized. As a result, many people are questioning the importance of museums. In these times, lessons from history are especially valuable.

There are many different types of museums, from pop-up museums that construct shared historical authority to nontraditional museum institutions that aren’t considered to be “traditional” museums. These types of institutions are often located in nontraditional locations and rely on visitors to provide museum objects. They are often more immersive and collaborative.

Museums are also increasingly engaging communities, fostering diversity, and contributing to the quality of life in the local community. These museums often serve as recreation centers, educational resources, and scholarly venues. They are often located in major cities. However, museums are also located in small towns.