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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: Back in 2005, my husband and I sold our home, bought a motorhome, and went out to explore America. We visited many hundreds of museums in the lower 48 states over a period of 5 years. Most offered a wealth of knowledge about the history and culture of the area in which we were, or the theme that represented the reason for the museum's or exhibit's existence. They are wonderful institutions for learning and I learned SO MUCH!

    There was one single exception. That was the official State museum of South Carolina. It did not recognize that the South lost the Civil War. It made no mention of the role of plantations or even slavery to the development of the state. It didn't even mention cotton or indigo (etc) that slaves produced. The gift shop sold photos and biographies for all the Confederate Generals and you could buy a confederate or South Carolina flag, but no where was there so much as a single picture of Lincoln or any Cherokee or non-white person. It did not recognize the Civil Rights era. It did not recognize Jim Crowe. There was a one-room school house on an upper floor, and about 20 feet away from it, in an inconspicuousness place, was a small index-card-sized notice that said "Some schools for black children were not this nice". That was the entirety of any message that mentioned the black population.

    It left one thinking that when the whites came to the land, they found the land uninhabited and no black person made a meaningful contribution. No mention of the Cherokee or the Trail of Tears. It dedicated a huge room to an earthquake that destroyed the lovely homes of the wealthy whites in Charleston and the problems they faced as a result.

    All in all, it was a testament to and lesson in hate and ignorance.

    So, in answer to your question, I have to say that it depends on the museum.
    • Nov 15 2012: Thank you for this response, Ted Lover. On behalf of the international museum community I want to express my shock at reading the above. Unfortunately, there is no concrete definition of what a museum is, only guidelines and characteristics that most museums have. This unfortunately leaves room for unprofessional and unethical institutions to call themselves museums. The above museum would never have a chance to get accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Unfortunately, as most museums in the United States are independent financially, most do not need to get accredited. I am sorry to hear about this experience. There is a very good organization in Indiana called "Follow the Northern Star". It is both a museum and a theatrical experience, where for 1 hour, you navigate your way through the carefully designed town, meeting various characters along the way. It is classed as confrontational theater, which means that it is quite an emotional experience and is only recommended for adults who are mature enough to handle it. Terrific program where you get to experience what is was like to be a run away slave.
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        Nov 15 2012: I do want to repeat that this was the single exception. I LOVE America's museums and some have been extraordinary!
    • Nov 15 2012: The actors in this organisation are bound by a rigid code of conduct. They are not allowed to touch a visitor for any reason. Derogatory remarks, verbal abuse and antagonistic gestures are permitted as long as they follow the script and primary goals of the organization. Actors are required to be aware of how a visitor is responding to the experience and they must disassociate themselves from the visitor in any case of a highly emotional reaction.
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        Nov 15 2012: Next time we go traveling in your direction, I'll be sure to add your museum to the list. Thanks for the YouTube link. Very interesting.

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