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What is the primary role of the museum in the modern world?

Museums have many roles, responsibilities and functions, some of which arose with the origin of western museums hundreds of years ago, others very new. This is a major debate in the field of Museum Studies as well as other associated fields. Some historical roles have included the museum as a place for academic research, as an educational institution, or both. Most museums continue to perform in this role. More recently the museum has been championed as a place of social interaction, a center for social justice and even a space for experimentation, invention and innovation where visitors can learn how to get involved. What do you think the museum does?

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  • Nov 15 2012: I realize that it will help this discussion if I explain a little bit about myself. I am an emerging museum professional, so I admit that this is a very important subject to me, however, I always try my best not to let my own bias scew the way I see the world. I have completed a Masters in Museum Studies at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester. I am interested in all museum functions, however, my primary interests are in interpretation, curating and collections management, education (primarily informal, but also in more formal forms) and to a lesser extent the museum as a site of social justice. My Masters Adviser, Dr. Richard Sandell is a champion of the museum as a social institution. While I admire his work and support it, I have differences in opinion of exactly what social functions museums can and should perform. Hope this helps.

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