Essay: Museums

Museums are defined as institutions that seek to serve the public by way of acquiring, conserving, researching, communicating and exhibiting the natural and cultural inheritance. At the center of these institutions is one important component which is research. Research is a major constituent of museum business. Smith (1960: 311) describes museums as centers for research, study, and contemplation. It can be noted that research is a significant part in museums because it fosters generation of new knowledge, it is also important in acquisition, preservation, conservation, and interpretation of the objects. It is against this background that this paper is going to discuss the relevance of research in museums.

According to Desvallees et al (2010), research in museums is mainly classified into four major categories. The first deals with museum’s collections, relating to disciplines such as history, and natural sciences. The second type is that which relates the material objects to science and other subjects outside the realm of museology, such as physics and chemistry. The third form is concerned with the operations of the museums, and the final category addresses the issues to do with institutional analysis. All these various forms of research are conducted within a museum at different levels, therefore, it can be noted that research is of importance in museum business.

Museums have the mandate to acquire, preserve, conserve, and promote their collections, as a contribution to safeguarding the natural, cultural, and scientific heritage (ICOM Code of Ethics, 2006). For museums to be able to fulfill this mandate there is need for them to conduct research so as to protect the potential value of their collections. Desvallees et al (2010) further note that, ‘the objective of conservation is to use all the means necessary to guarantee the condition of an object against any kind of alteration in order to bequeath it to future generations.’ It can therefore be noted that research is a crucial part of museums because before conservation can be done, there is need to first conduct research so as to guarantee the possible and appropriate measures to be taken for conservation and preservation of different material objects. Hence, research is a major component in museums because it is through research that information about how to preserve and conserve the material objects is acquired.

A museum mainly deals with the collection of objects. Desvallees et al (2010) defines a collection as a set of material or intangible objects which have been assembled, classified, selected, and preserved. These collections keep the museums in motion. However, collection of objects or intangible aspects of culture, is not just done at random, the set of objects collected must form a coherent and meaningful whole. This assessment whether the collection is meaningful is reached at through research. Therefore, it can be argued that research is a major component of museums because it is crucial in acquiring meaningful collections.

Bearing in mind that a good museum needs a good collection, and a good collection a, good scholarship; research is viewed as a crucial section of museums. Research in museums leads to the development of the collections. Smithies (2011) argues that the need to keep actively developing collections, including through ongoing acquisition and disposal all depend on the research which is conducted. Therefore, research is a significant component in museums because it leads to the acquisition of good collections, hence excellent museums in the end.

Museums can be said to be institutions that seek to serve the society through interpreting the cultural and natural inheritance to the general public. Lewis (2004: 6) notes that these museums are concerned with the up keep and interpretation of any aspect of the world’s tangible and intangible cultural legacy. For museums to be able to appropriately interpret the cultural and natural heritage, they need to first conduct research before they come up with conclusions based on their expertise. Van Mensch (1992) then elude that, research entails the scientific interpretation of the information value of cultural and natural heritage, to come up with new conclusions. Therefore, it can be noted that research is a major component in museums because it fulfills that main aims of the museums which is to interpret the cultural and natural inheritance to the society.

Desvallees et al (2010: 73) notes that in museums, research consist of the intellectual activities and work aimed at discovering, inventing, and the advancement of new knowledge connected with the museum collections. In other words, research can be said to be the driving force in the function of museums. The main aim of museums is to conduct research about the material objects that will have been acquired; this will then generate knowledge about the objects. Smithies (2011: 9) notes that, sufficient expertise research in museums generate new knowledge and create new narratives that speak to the general public. Therefore, it can be argued that research is a major component of museum business because it provides new insights to the objects and also aide as a form of communication between the audience and the silent objects.

Museums have also accepted the role of being learning centers; therefore there is need for research to be conducted in these institutions so that the information disseminated to the audience is adequate. Dudzinska-Przesmitzki et al (2008: 9) notes that, apart from their usual roles as conservators and collectors, society have bestowed upon museums, and most museums have acknowledged, the mission of acting as cultural and enlightening centers of knowledge. Research therefore is crucial if museums are continue to be learning centers as Jelinek (1978) contends that, neglecting of the scientific activities of research in museums will result in liquidation of the whole work even the educative discourse. It can therefore be argued that research is a major factor of museum business because museum act as center of attaining information by the general public, thus they should always have relevant and adequate information for the audience.

Research is viewed as the stronghold of any museum. Sofka (1978: 59) contend that with the absence of research, the collecting, cataloguing, and preservation function of the museum will be curtailed. It is argued that research is important for museums because without it, there will be no knowledge acquisition from the material objects. Also it is significant because through research museum personnel acquire knowledge and will be able to convey it to the general public in a way which they can understand better. Research therefore, improves the scientific quality of the collection and acts as the connection between the collection and the society.

Museums are regarded as important institutions, especially at national level; they do carry with them the sense of national consciousness. In Prague for instance, the revival of nationalism led to the foundation of the national museum in 1818, and later it became the Czech nationalism. It is against this background that research should be a paramount factor in museums because it is through research that the heritage of a nation can be preserved. Lewis (2004) further reiterates that, museums are appropriate institutions for the preservation of a nation’s historic heritage. Therefore, it can be noted that research is significant in museums because it provides the platform where the heritage can be preserved appropriately.

Research is a major constituent of museum business because it gives the responsible authority, the perception of users of the museum. Chang (2006) notes that, research give an understanding to the authorities, of the different characteristics of museum visitors and the nature of their museum experience. This is crucial for museum business because it is through the use of such knowledge that the museum is developed. Therefore, it can be argued that research is a major component for museums because aide the development of museums through understanding the visitor perceptions.

Moreover, it can be drawn from the above presentation that research is surely a major component of museum business. Research is the central constituent in the running of the museum. It provides the knowledge about how to acquire, conserve, preserve, communicate, and dispose the objects. It is through research that most museums in the world do have different obligations to meet. However, it should be noted that the role of research is not the same in all parts of the world.

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