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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 18 2012: Richard, I think this is an excellent question. I watched Night at the Museum last night (stay with me!) and the sequel deals with the premise that all the original artifacts are to be shipped to a storage unit and replaced with virtual interactive exhibits; the central tenet involved exploring why we need to keep original artifacts in modern day museums,and it was a compelling (if not a little saccharine) story. As with most things what was decided was a combination of original exhibits and modern technology is the best way for a museum to go....now I believe Museums serve the loftiest purpose...that of LEARNING; to behold actual primary sources of our domestic, cultural and spiritual evolution gives us opportunities for deep experience (that is to say experience filled with awe and wonder). I believe children and adults alike will forever marvel at the contents of museums and I read recently that most only show 10% of their actual stock...now a virtual tour of their 'backstage' areas would be fascinating.It's what's not on show that just arouses our curiosity! Also I recently heard of the Grayson Perry exhibition in London in which he chose key objects and linked them through his interpretation of how they fit into ours (and his) world...a really interesting take on curating.This essentially challenges the divide between museum and art gallery....brilliantly thought provoking.
    • Nov 20 2012: This is an important discussion in the museum field: on the one hand visitors can learn a great deal from looking at real objects, on the other hand, we do not learn passively, we are active learners and so many of us learn by doing. So, this is what brings about the debate over interactivity which comes up briefly in the Night at the Museum movie. Interactives can be great ways of getting visitors to actively engage with the material in a way that they can not by simply looking at objects. The idea of interactives is terrific, however, many museum professionals, such as myself, believe that the reality of interactives falls quite far below what it could be. Too often interactives are simple activities such as doing simple puzzles or connecting the dots. Interactive exhibits should be much more challenging and inspire creative thinking. Interactive exhibits should not only be "hands on" but also "mind on".
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        Nov 20 2012: ..great point, I think technology and the imagination can dream anything when coupled together...realizing these is quite another matter...'hands and minds on' I love that, you're right museums must make us think....might I develop this further and say the ideal museum should foster a 'heads, heart and hands on' approach to grip the next generation....
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        Nov 21 2012: At my local art museum we use volunteers who are trained about the exhibits and to interact with people about the work as sorts of wandering docents.

        The zoo has something similar.

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