The Enlightenment Room of the British Museum, restored to show the Age of Enlightenment conception of a museum.

Museology is the diachronic study of museums and how they have established and developed in their role as an educational mechanism under social and political pressures.[1]



Museum displays are given meaning and purpose by the context in which they are created and how they are showcased; museology endeavours to discover the catalysts that support the growth of these associations and their success through such efficiencies. The scope of research goes beyond superficial terms, delving further into topics such as audiences to which exhibits are directed, responsibilities encountered by way of function, as well as some deliberation as to possible futures as an institution.[2] The difficulties that are faced by historians and curators to produce a product that appeals to a varied public and can withstand criticism stimulates ongoing research.

Conception of museums

The principal reasons behind the creation of museums were first, to eliminate arbitrary, private collections, and secondly, to open collected works into a public sphere in which they could be appreciated by the general public who could gain and profit from an experience to be shared instead of cloistered and confined.[3] Beyond the elite and the privileged, the study of art, artefacts, and every object imaginable were to become more accessible to the masses, a means of discovery and wonder. In origin, the idea dates back to classical times, but publicly funded foundations can only be traced back a few hundred years.[4] The curiosity cabinet is the earliest form of a museum in Western civilization.

Birth of museology

Museology is the study of the "museum experience" seen both through the eyes of the institution, and the visitor. The motivation factors for both groups that result in the "museum experience" change over time with the collection on display, and the history of this change is also a subject of museology. Museology has only just recently begun to see an improvement in strides made by historians and scholars to focus on its true potential as a legitimate field of study. In 2000, very little discussion had taken place and virtually no research had been done at all.[5] As with many topics, it has taken time for appeal to permeate, and for academia to take notice and begin abrasively questioning the essential and recouping answers to an important dialogue. The actual breaking through of museology as a genuine field of enquiry has been clouded by controversy to the extent that even in its early stages as a field, has fractured into an old and new.

Insufficient support

Reasons why this specific scholarly perspective of review has been overlooked may be directly linked with a lack of priority and due to more pressing financial circumstances such as funding and managing collections.[6] These being more practical issues that take precedence have caused a slower infiltration into the mainstream and left many disenchanted with it as a whole. Also, the theme itself is inherently correlated with not just conversation but debate often leaving the subject at a standstill and experts unsatisfied as so much of it relies on theory instead of hard evidence.

Tourism as a vehicle for success

Museums, as a result of competition and the growing tourism market, face a constant identity crisis and must always remain current in an economy that privileges experiences, immediacy, and what the industry calls adventure.[7] But the booming market plays two roles in the lives of museums and museology. In recent years, there has been tremendous growth in the museum population worldwide; the opportunity created by tourism has left the two intimately linked, but as their relationship grows, so too do concerns as to how to cope with public criticism.[8] A larger audience for museums begs understanding in how to satisfy needs and expectations; museology takes into consideration and studies those public demands and build theories as to why they work and how to duplicate them.

Museum media as a mode of communication

Museums are the quintessential institutions which use ‘medium’ and ‘message’ as an identical thought through material and the tangible.[9] Museology seeks to understand and develop proficient exhibits which engage the audience by way of looking at the past and truly grasping techniques and displays that are productive and how they can be adapted to changing societies and utilized to effectively educate and stir interest, awareness, or curiosity. Both form and function become sources to be analysed as they allow greater comprehension of an audience’s overall reception of a message. In establishing continuity between museum and media, popular culture and tourism, museology has taken a transdisciplinary approach broadening discussions and utilizing a wider scope of methodology to explain the inevitable changes which occur.[10]

Artefacts as primary sources

Because the framework of museums lie in material objects as primary sources, historians recognize inherent issues, problematic to the ‘truth’ which they seek to unfold and have been forced to adapt their tactics when drawing information out; this has led to tremendous efforts to borrow from other disciplines.[11] Museology itself has been vital to recognizing this issue and extracting resources from discussions in an effort to resolve concerns such as this which form the structure of its research.

See also


  1. ^ Peter Vergo, “Introduction,” in The New Museology, ed. Peter Vergo (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 1989), 1.
  2. ^ Ibid., 1.
  3. ^ Ibid., 2.
  4. ^ Ibid., 1.
  5. ^ Nick Merriman, “Introduction,” in Making Early Histories in Museums, ed. Nick Merriman (London: Leicester University Press, 1999), 1.
  6. ^ Ibid., 2.
  7. ^ Andrea Witcomb, Re-Imagining the Museum (London: Routledge, 2003), 13.
  8. ^ Ibid., 13.
  9. ^ Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, “Museums and communication: an introductory essay,” in Museum, Media, Message, ed. Eilean Hooper-Greenhill (London: Routledge, 1995), 1.
  10. ^ Andrea Witcomb, Re-Imagining the Museum (London: Routledge, 2003), 12.
  11. ^ Gaynor Kavanagh, “Making Histories, Making Memories,” in Making Histories in Museums, ed. Gaynor Kavanagh (London: Leicester University Press, 1996), 1.


  • Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean. “Museums and communication: an introductory essay,” In Museum, Media, Message 1995, edited by Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, 1–12. London: Routledge, 1995.
  • Kavanagh, Gaynor, “Making Histories, Making Memories,” In Making Histories in Museums 1996, edited by Gaynor Kavanagh, 1–14. London: Leicester University Press, 1996.
  • Keene, S., "Fragments of the World: Uses of Museum Collections", 2005.
  • Merriman, Nick. “Introduction,” In Making Early Histories in Museums 1999, edited by Nick Merriman, 1–11. London: Leicester University Press, 1999.
  • Vergo, Peter. “Introduction,” In The New Museology 1989, edited by Peter Vergo, 1–5. London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 1989.
  • Witcomb, Andrea. Re-Imagining the Museum. London: Routledge, 2003.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • museology — [myo͞o΄zē äl′ə jē] n. the theory or practice of operating, or managing, a museum museological [myo͞o΄zēə läj′i kəl] adj. museologist [myo͞o΄zē äl′əjist] n …   English World dictionary

  • museology — noun Etymology: museum + logy Date: 1885 the science or profession of museum organization and management • museological adjective • museologist noun …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • museology — museological /myooh zee euh loj i keuhl/, adj. museologist, n. /myooh zee ol euh jee/, n. the systematic study of the organization, management, and function of a museum. [1880 85; MUSE(UM) + O + LOGY] * * * …   Universalium

  • museology — noun The design, organization, and management of museums. See Also: museography, museophile, museum …   Wiktionary

  • museology — the study of museums Sciences and Studies …   Phrontistery dictionary

  • museology — mjuːzɪ É‘lÉ™dʒɪ / É’l n. study of museums; systematic study of how museums are organized and managed …   English contemporary dictionary

  • museology —    The discipline of museum design, organization, and management. Also see art conservation, collection, curator, director, docent, exhibit and exhibition, patron, patronage, preparator, and registrar …   Glossary of Art Terms

  • museology — [ˌmju:zɪ ɒlədʒi] noun the science or practice of organizing and managing museums. Derivatives museological adjective museologist noun …   English new terms dictionary

  • museology — mu·se·ol·o·gy …   English syllables

  • museology — mu•se•ol•o•gy [[t]ˌmyu ziˈɒl ə dʒi[/t]] n. the systematic study of the organization, management, and function of a museum • Etymology: 1880–85 mu se•o•log′i•cal əˈlɒdʒ ɪ kəl adj. mu se•ol′o•gist, n …   From formal English to slang

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