Module 1 – What is a museum?

Local and international perspectives

Guiding questions:

  • How did the museum develop or come about?
  • What is the function of a museum?
  • What types of museums exist?
  • What constitutes a museum?
  • For whom is the museum content?
  • What is the future of museums?

This module gives an overview of museum history and philosophy from a global perspective. We will look at the predecessors of modern museums all over the world – some called Wunderkammer; some dar, bait, markaz (arab. for house, center); some museion etc – and study how the purpose of museums has developed over time globally. We will analyze the variety of types shaped by a diversity of disciplinary perspectives, different principles of collecting and the different forms of display of cultural property. By doing so students learn to develop case specific but reasonable principles of collecting and understand which fields and tasks constitute the modern museum and which broad spectrum of professional jobs descriptions arise from that.

To learn about the philosophies of what a museum can represent also means studying the impact of museum architecture, the physical museum space and its consequences for the visitor experience. Looking at museum mission statements and proclaimed cultural guidelines as well as different interpretations of objects in collections and representations of the past we will dissect current issues in the philosophy of museums and examine the different roles museums take on in society.

The module will be round up with a discussion on whether museums have refined themselves educational, social, and cultural institutions valued against the background of a culturally appropriate museology (with its demand for participation and social inclusion).

Finally we will ask what function museums may have for its society in the future.