Asking if museums are crucial institutions in our history, is like asking if culture and traditions are important to the people. A museum is an institution that collects and conserves artifacts and other important cultural and artistic relics and availing them for public viewing either through permanent or temporary exhibitions. Certainly, they are important establishments of society, that help us identify with our country’s culture and learn our history.
Museums have a rich history dating back to the first known museum in Egypt at the University of Alexandria. Over the years, the culture of museums has spread to almost all countries in the world and currently, almost every country in the world has a national museum, regardless of how small they may be. This means that this idea is one universal conception that survived the 20th century. Traditionally, their role was to collect ancient objects that had a bearing on our livelihoods and other artifacts of cultural and historical importance, conserve them, carry out research on them and show them to the public for purposes of education and leisure.
Early museums were reserved in terms of admittance to the general public and artifacts exhibited. However, in today’s world, there is a wider focus on public demands and a clamor for realism and collective connection with issues that impact on the populace, society and nations. In today’s world, it is an establishment with national and global touch; telling us the history of man universally and how mankind has survived in this dynamic environment over the years. The museums as we know them today house creations of man and nature over the centuries with an infusion of a country’s cultural soul – the cultural conscience of that country.
However, not everyone will agree that they are indeed important institutions that are core to our history and culture as we know it. This can be attributed to the negative perception in some nations and places where objects and materials linked to fetish religions and idolatry are preserved. This contradict opinion has continued to limit the development of museums, especially in Asian and third world nations. But all in all, for us who appreciate our history and culture, you will agree that they are definitely archives of our culture, heritage and evolution.
We all have different interests and tastes, and museums are one institution that incorporates that factor aptly. They can vary from big establishments to small establishments that focus on specific subjects, places, events or notable persons in a country’s history. As such, they can be categorized into; natural history, encyclopedic (universal museum), anthropology and zoology, cultural history, fine arts, archeology, philately, sports, car, botanical and zoological gardens, craft and children’s museums, just to mention a few. Though, these classes vary depending on mission, objectives, items displayed, functions, strategies and baseline of the facility. The kind and size of a museum is usually reflected in its collection. Normally, a museum will curate a collection of objects that are important to its field.
Museums play the unique role of holding our cultural wealth for all generations and those to come in place in a unique manner, in a way that we can blend in spite of difference and changes over the years. This earns these facilities the unique place and function of being the cultural conscience of our country and the world. Digitization of information has affected their place as we knew them through virtual exhibitions and enhanced resolution images of collections, but they still remain as those facilities that keeps our history alive.
Seeing our history painted, depicted or sculpted at a museum is interesting, educational and fun. We need to curate and preserve our history to protect our culture and things that – if we lost them, we would never get them back.