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In her entry on museums for the 1948 Universal Jewish Encyclopedia the eminent historian of Jewish art Rachel Bernstein Wischnitzer (1885–1989), founding curator of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, cited the origin of collecting and exhibiting of objects of Jewish art and archaeology as dating to 1863 when Félicien de Saulcy brought sarcophagi discovered in Jerusalem to the Louvre. In this way, she wrote, "Since the excavations in Palestine and other sites of [Jewish] archaeological interest were conducted by expeditions from many countries, Jewish excavation finds found their way into various museums all over the world …" Many finds were not related to the Jewish cultural heritage, but the significance of excavating in the Land of Israel was the study of the Bible. Similarly, interest in the Bible and other texts of the "people of the Book" led to the acquisition of important manuscripts and printed texts as some ceremonial objects for libraries and museums throughout Europe. The earliest group of Jewish ritual artifacts was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum, then called the South Kensington Museum, in London in 1855, just four years after the museum was established.

It is only in the modern age that there has been a concerted effort to develop museums of the Jewish cultural heritage with far-ranging collections to reflect the 4,000 year history of the Jewish people and Jewish life as it evolved in many lands among many different peoples. Beginning in the 1890s, the formation of Jewish museums in Europe, the United States, and in Ereẓ Israel reflected the phenomenon in Europe of the creation of public museums that began a century earlier and specifically the establishment of ethnographic collections in the mid-19th century. Prior to that time, collecting was the provenance of the nobility and the wealthy. While private wealth did enable some individuals to form collections of Jewish art, in the period before World War i, with increasing secularization, demographic changes, and the rise of nationalism, there was a growing trend to mobilize community preservation efforts and to raise public awareness of the importance of sustaining cultural heritage. Jewish art activities in Europe continued to thrive in Europe even after the Russian Revolution and World War i and heroically persisted even as the Nazis came to power.

In the decades following the Holocaust, there was some limited activity in Europe, but the major mantle of scholarship in the field of Jewish art became the responsibility of Jewish communities in the United States and in Israel. After the Six-Day War in 1967, there was a tremendous upsurge in interest in Jewish life and culture. In America, this occurrence paralleled a focus on ethnicity which significantly impacted American life. Since the late 1970s the most profound aspect of the emphasis on history as memory has been the building of hundreds of Holocaust museums and memorials worldwide. The effort to preserve local Jewish history has been a major impetus to establish Jewish museums in communities across the globe by restoring historic synagogues, in many cases where few Jews remain. Perhaps most astonishing is the revival of Jewish museums in Europe even where the Jewish community was largely destroyed during the Holocaust. By the 1950s Jewish museums had been established or reopened in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Greece, Italy, Spain, England, Ireland, Scandinavia, France, and Belgium.

With the collapse of communism in the late 1980s, Jewish museums, many in restored synagogues and other former Jewish communal buildings, have been created in the former East Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine. Several collections thought to have been plundered during World War ii have been brought to light. An ironic consequence of the loss of cultural artifacts during the Holocaust, is the development of contemporary genizah projects, the search for once discarded and hidden Judaica in Europe. The efforts of the Hidden Legacy Foundation in London and the Jewish Museum in Prague for example, have led to the discovery in genizot buried artifacts of a number of communities in Germany and Czechoslovakia. While these documents, sacred texts, and ritual objects were buried because they were outworn or no longer usable, their conservation has now become necessary because of the dire fate of the locations in which they were placed for safekeeping and the destruction of the communities that cared for them.

Over 20 countries with representation of several dozen museums are members of the Association of European Jewish Museums (aefm), an important forum for new plans and developments. The association was established to promote the study of European Jewish history and seeks to protect and preserve Jewish sites and the Jewish cultural heritage in Europe. The Association of European Jewish Museums, the Council of American Jewish Museums (cajm), which represents over 80 institutional and associate members, along with representatives of the vast network of museums in Israel, and colleagues worldwide – from Australia to South Africa, from Chile to China – seek more and more ways to work in partnership to preserve and interpret the Jewish cultural heritage.

Western Europe and the Mediterranean Rim

Isaac Strauss (1806–1888), conductor of the orchestra at the Paris Opera and for Napoleon iii, was an avid art collector and purchased Judaica during his extensive travels. The first public display of Jewish ceremonial art was an exhibition of his collection at the Exposition Universelle at the Palais de Trocadéro in Paris in 1878. The Strauss Collection was purchased in 1890 by Baronne Charlotte, wife of Nathaniel de Rothschild, given to the State, and housed at the Musée de Cluny. The Strauss collection was fortuitously spared during World War ii. The Strauss Collection was given a new home in 1999 when the *Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme opened in Paris in the magnificent restored 17th-century Hôtel de Saint-Aignan in the Marais quarter. The new museum is a successor to the Musée d'Art Juif which was founded in 1948 and acquired its collections. The grandchildren of Captain Alfred *Dreyfus (1859–1935) gifted the museum with the archives, numbering over 3,000 items, that chronicle the "Dreyfus Affair" – the accusation of treason, his court-martial, conviction, imprisonment, and finally exoneration in 1904 – which revealed the persistence of antisemitism in France and became an international issue. The museum also has a long-term loan of ceremonial objects from the Consistory of Paris, never before seen by the general public.

Paris was also the home of the oldest Jewish national historical society, the Société des Études Juives, founded in 1880. On the eve of the French Revolution, Alsace was home to more than half of French Jewry. When the decree of emancipation in 1791 gave Jews full citizenship and the right to practice any trade, many Jews left the rural communities. In 1905, the Société d'Histoire des Israélites d'Alsace et de Lorraine was established to preserve traditional folkways. Headed by Rabbi Moise Ginsburger and Charlés Levy, the society collected objects and recorded oral traditions. These were deposited in the Musée Alsacien in Strasbourg specifically created to preserve the distinctive regional folk culture. In recent years, there has been an upsurge in documentation of Jewish life in Alsace. Over 200 sites are on record, a number of which have already been restored and now are home to Jewish museums including in Bischheim, Bouxwiller, Colmar, and Marmoutier. Two 18th-century synagogues in Carpentras and Cavaillon in Comtat Venaissan, formerly an area where Jews were given protection by the popes of Avignon, have also been preserved.

The first attempt to create a Jewish museum in Belgium dates to 1932, but it was not successful. The 1981 exhibition, "150 years of Belgium Jewish Life," held at the Brussels town hall was the impetus for establishing the Pro Museo Judaico. The Jewish Museum in Brussels opened in 1990 and in 2004 moved to a building donated by the Belgian government.

The Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition presented at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1887 was the first major exposition organized to further interest in the historic preservation of Judaic art and artifacts. Plans for the exhibition grew out of the attempt to establish an Anglo-Jewish historical society and motivated by the threatened demolition of the Bevis Marks Synagogue, a landmark since its dedication in 1701. The exhibition was spearheaded by Lucien Wolf (1857–1930), a historian and publicist, and Alfred A. Newman (1851–1887), a collector of Anglo-Jewish books, pamphlets, and portraits, and guided by Sir Isidore Spielmann (1854–1925), an organizer of art exhibitions. Some 2,500 items were displayed, including ceremonial objects, antiquities, paintings, prints, documents and books on loan from some 345 lenders, both individuals and institutions and included the Strauss collection from Paris. Another important collection was that of Reuben D. Sassoon (1835–1905), largely purchased from Philip Salomons (1796–1867), the brother of Sir David *Salomons, the first Jew to serve as lord mayor of London.

A diverse, ecumenical general committee participated in the planning of the exhibition and related public programs. This inclusion reflects a political agenda that factored in the rescue and preservation of the cultural artifacts of the Jewish people. In England, as elsewhere in Europe and in the United States, an underlying aim was to dispel age-old prejudices and stereotypes and to increase awareness of the contributions made by Jews and the Jewish community to society at large. The Anglo-Jewish Historical Society was formed in 1893. The London Jewish Museum was established in 1932, an effort spearheaded by historian Cecil *Roth (1899–1970) and Wilfred *Samuel (1886–1958). The Jewish Museum is considered the National Collection of Judaica. Important early collections include objects from the Arthur Howitt collection purchased in 1932, the Kahn Collection of 18th-century textiles, and the Franklin Collection of ceremonial silver. For many years, the collection was housed in the Library of the Jews' college at Woburn House in Tavistock Square, along with the main institutions of the Jewish community. Since 1995, the museum has been located in the Raymond Burton House in Camden, a restored 1844 building. Today, the London Jewish Museum also encompasses the London Museum of Jewish Life founded in 1983 to focus on the more recent history of Jewish life in Britain from the late 19th century to the present. The Ben-Uri Society was established in 1915. The founders, many of whom were Yiddish-speaking immigrants, aspired to develop a collection of fine arts that would demonstrate the significant contribution of Jewish artists. Today its collections represent the work of some 350 artists and is one of the most important of its type in Europe. In Manchester the Jewish Museum opened in 1984 in the former Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue built in 1874.

The Irish Jewish Museum, dedicated in 1985, is housed in the now restored Walworth Road Synagogue, in the heart of what was once a Jewish neighborhood of Dublin. The collections represent Jewish communities in Belfast, Cork, Derry, Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford.

The Jewish community in Italy was the very first in Western Europe, and only in Italy has there been continuous settlement since Jews first arrived during the era of the Roman Empire. Today few, if any, Jewish residents remain in many of the once thriving communities. A number of synagogues have been restored and often ceremonial objects, along with a history of the particular locale, are displayed.

Rome is home to the largest Jewish community in Italy. The Jewish Museum in Rome is located in the Tempio Israelitico, built in 1904 in the area of the old demolished ghetto. The Jewish Museum in Florence is located in the historic 1882 Moorish revival style synagogue. Also in Tuscany, there is a Jewish museum in Livorno, and the Sienna synagogue has been restored. In Venice, all of the five synagogues in the area that was the ghetto have been preserved. Each represents one aspect of the community's diverse background, the richly appointed interiors epitomizing the greatness of Italian Jewish art. In nearby Padua, the museum is at the site of the last surviving synagogue, which dates back to 1548 and which was actually closed from 1893 until after World War ii. The Jewish Museum in Bologna, located in the area of the former ghetto, and along with the synagogue of Modena and the Jewish museums of Soragna and Ferrara promote an awareness of the long, rich history of Jewish culture in the Emilia-Romagna region. In Piedmont, Jewish museums are found in the restored synagogues in Asti, Casale Monferrato, and Turin. There is also a Jewish Museum in Trieste.

Jewish settlement in Spain also dates to the first centuries of the Roman Empire. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 was a major turning point in the history of the Jewish people, and it was not until the second half of the 19th century that Jews returned. The Museo Sefardi in Toledo, Spain established in 1964 which is now located in the restored El Tránsito Synagogue, built between 1336 and 1357 by Samuel ha-Levi, who held several important posts in the court of King Pedro I of Castilla. Fortunately, in 1877, the building, which had been used as a hospital and later a church, was declared a National Monument. Preservation was begun by the government and completed under the auspices of the Museo Sefardi. A museum has also been formed in Girona in conjunction with the Nahmanides Institute for Jewish Studies. Following the expulsion from Spain some 150,000 Jews fled to Portugal. But it was not to be a safe haven and in 1497 Jews were forced to leave. The oldest existing synagogue in Portugal was built in 1438 in Tomar. Classified as a national monument in 1921, it was donated to the state in 1939 for use as a museum. Today it houses the Abraham Zacuto Luso Jewish Museum.

The Joodsch Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum) in Amsterdam, founded in 1931 was re-opened in its original home in the medieval Waagebouw (Weigh-House) in 1955. Eighty percent of its collection was lost during the war; the rest was recovered in Germany. In 1974, the Amsterdam City Council, which then held title to the buildings, voted that the abandoned Ashkenazi Synagogue complex should become the new home of the Jewish Historical Museum. Four historic synagogues, two of which were built in the 17th century and two in the 18th, were restored and physically linked to form the museum. The buildings had been badly damaged in the war, and the replacement elements are all of contemporary design, symbolically serving as a reminder of what has been lost.

The effort to establish a Jewish museum in Denmark was launched in 1985. The museum opened in 2003, in what was the Royal Boat House, built by King Christian iv at the turn of the 17th century. The choice of this site is significant because it was at the invitation of King Christian that Jews were fist invited to settle in Scandinavia. Noted architect Daniel *Libeskind transformed the historic space for use as the Jewish museum using the concept of mitzvah for the overall matrix of his plan.

The Jewish Museum in Basle exhibits objects and documents related to the history of the Jewish community in Switzerland. Basle was the site of the First Zionist Congress in 1897 and documents and mementos from the Congress are on display. A group of tombstones from the 13th century are installed in the courtyard.

The Jewish Museum in Stockholm, was founded in 1987. In 1999, it was accorded the status of a national museum by the Swedish government. In Norway, the Jewish Museum in Trondheim opened in 1997 in the main building of the former railway station, built in 1864, which was converted for use as a synagogue in 1925 and rededicated after World War ii.

The Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens was founded in 1977 by Nikos Stavroulakis, who was also the founding director of the Jewish Museum in Thessaloniki in 2000. In addition to collecting archives and artifacts of the two-millennia-old Jewish heritage in Greece, both museums have undertaken the recording and photographing of Jewish monuments, synagogues, and cemeteries endangered because nearly 90 percent of the Jewish population perished during the Holocaust. The Jewish Museum of Rhodes was founded in 1997 and is located adjacent to the Kahal Shalom Synagogue built in 1577. The Jewish community in Turkey also traces its roots to antiquity. The Jewish Museum in Istanbul, housed in the historic Zülfaris Synagogue, was founded in 2001 by the Quincentennial Foundation, which commemorates the 500th anniversary of the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain and the welcome to the Ottoman Empire. The Jewish Museum is the first to be established in a predominantly Muslim country. The vast majority of Moroccan Jews left for Israel, France, and the United States after 1948. The Jewish Museum in Casablanca, Morocco, preserves and records the long history of Jewish life in Morocco and has been involved in the restoration of synagogues.

Central and Eastern Europe

Beginning with a study group in Vienna established in 1895, there was a proliferation of societies in Europe dedicated to the furtherance of Jewish art, which was a consequence of the growing awareness of issues of Jewish identity in the face of modern life. The Gesellschaft fuer Sammlung und Konservierung von Kunst und historischen Denkmälern des Judentums (Society for the Collection and Conservation of Jewish Art and Historic Monuments) also established the first Jewish museum. About 20,000 objects and 30,000 books were recovered in 1945 and returned to the Jewish community. In the 1960s there was a short-lived effort at re-opening the museum. In 1990, the city of Vienna founded a new Jewish Museum, which opened in 1993. The Museum Judenplatz Vienna was inaugurated in 2000 along with a Holocaust memorial designed by Rachel Whiteread. The museum, entered through a 500-year-old Jewish community building still active today, preserves the remains of a newly discovered 13th-century synagogue.

The home of Samson *Wertheimer (1658–1724), court Jew to Emperor Leopold i, in Eisenstadt today houses the Austrian Jewish Museum that opened in 1982. An earlier Jewish museum that was founded by Sándor Wolf (1871–1946) in the 1930s was plundered during World War ii. Samson Wertheimer, who was also a rabbi, had a private synagogue in his home. His schul, one of the few Jewish places of worship not destroyed during the Holocaust, was rededicated in 1979. A Jewish museum in Hohenems is located in the historic Heimann-Rosenthal villa which dates to 1864 and focuses on Salomon *Sulzer (1804–1890), renowned composer of Jewish music.

Alexander David (1687–1765), a Court Jew from Braunschweig, formed the earliest known collection of Judaica originating with the ceremonial objects used in his private synagogue. In 1747, the private synagogue became a community house of prayer and was maintained as such until 1875. Today, David's collection forms the core of the Judaica department of the Braunschweig Landesmuseum in Germany.

In Frankfurt-am-Main, a Catholic art historian and director of the Duesseldorf Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Applied Art), Heinrich Frauberger (1845–1920), formed the Gesellschaft zur Erforschung Juedischer Kunstdenkmaeler (Society for the Research of Jewish Art Objects) in 1901. The Frankfurt Jewish Museum, established in 1922, was destroyed on *Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, Nov. 9, 1938, and was reopened in 1988 in the former Rothschild Palais on the 50th anniversary of the infamous pogrom that began the massive destruction by the Nazis of Jewish homes, businesses, and cultural and religious institutions. Frauberger also formed a collection of Jewish art. In 1908, he curated the first exhibition in Germany of Jewish ceremonial objects at the Duesseldorf Kunstgewerbemuseum. Frauberger later sold his collection to Salli Kirschstein (1869–1935), a successful Berlin businessman. In addition to the influence of Frauberger and the Frankfurt group, Salli Kirschstein's collection also reflects the work of Max *Grunwald(1871–1953), who had issued a call in Hamburg in 1896 to establish a Museum fuer juedische Volkskunde, which aimed to study Jewish folklore studies as a means for Jews to represent what they shared in common with other peoples. A Jewish museum was subsequently established in Hamburg prior to World War i. Today, the Hamburg Historical Museum maintains Judaica department.

Salli *Kirschstein established a private museum in his Berlin home to educate Jews and non-Jews alike through the material evidence of Jewish culture. In particular this was his response to the absence of any representation of Jewish life in the Arts and Crafts and Ethnology Museum in Berlin. Kirschstein's encyclopedic approach to collecting including ceremonial objects, fine arts, manuscripts and rare books as well as historic documents would later serve as a paradigm for other Jewish museums.

There were other initiatives to bring Jewish art to Berlin. The first exhibition of the work of Jewish artists sponsored by the Verein zur Foederung juedischer Kunst (Society for the Furthering of Jewish Art) was held in Berlin in 1908. Another effort at establishing a Jewish Museum in Berlin was based on the art collection of Albert Wolf (1841–1907). In 1917, the collection was displayed in the community administration building adjacent to the historic Neue Synagog on Oranienburgerstrasse. Lack of funding, and a theft in 1923, left the community collection in compromised straits. A new society to support a Jewish Museum in Berlin was established in 1924, with Salli Kirschstein as a participant. However, his collection never became the nucleus of the expanded effort. In 1926, Kirschstein sold his collection numbering over 6,000 items to the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the United States. A second group of objects he collected was sold at auction in 1932. Fifteen of them became part of the collection of the Jewish Museum in Berlin which was, at long last, dedicated on January 24, 1933, just six days before the Nazis came to power. The Nazis closed the museum in 1938 and Allied bombing heavily damaged the Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue. When the city became divided, the synagogue was in the eastern sector. A change in government policy precipitated by the declining fortunes of communism led to the decision in 1988 to create the Stiftung Centrum Judaicum-Neue Synagoge, which established a memorial and cultural center in the synagogue. In West Berlin, a Jewish Department of the Berlin City Museum, which was located in the Kollegienhaus, a former Baroque Prussian courthouse, was established in the early 1970s. In 1989, Daniel Libeskind's design won a competition for what was officially the "Expansion of the Berlin Museum with a Jewish-Museum Section." The striking post-modern building became a destination in its own right and was visited by a quarter of a million people during a year and a half period after the building was completed in 1999 before closing to install the exhibitions. The Jewish Museum Berlin opened officially on September 8, 2001. Among its creators were two men exiled from Berlin by the Nazis: Michael Blumenthal and Jeshajahu Weinberg,

In the interwar period, Jewish museums were also established in Kassel, Munich, and Mainz. Theodor Harbinger conducted a survey for the Center for Collecting Jewish Art in Bavaria in Munich under the auspices of the Verband Bayerishcher Israelitischer Gemeinden. Plans are in the works for a new Jewish museum to be built in Munich in a complex that will also include a synagogue and community center. In Mainz the museum was formed by the Verein zur Pflege Juedischer Altertuemer in Mainz where in 1931 there was a landmark convention of Jewish art historians, collectors, and curators who met to discuss collaborating on developing a unified methodology of cataloging, photographing and exhibiting collections of Jewish art.

From the mid-1980s and especially since the reunification of Germany, numerous Jewish museums have been established and nearly 100 synagogues have been restored, many of them with exhibitions. The Jewish Museum of Franconia has three sites: in Fuerth, in the former home of the Court Jew family Fromm, built in 1702; in Schnaittach, in a synagogue built in 1570; and in Schwabach, where a painted sukkah was found in a house on Synagogengasse. The Jewish Museum in Augsburg is in a restored synagogue – originally dedicated in 1917, it was badly damaged in 1938 and restored in 1985. In 1982, the former wedding hall of the Jewish quarter of Worms located next to the destroyed Romanesque synagogue became the home of Rashi House, a Jewish museum and archive named in honor of the leading commentator of the Bible Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (*Rashi; 1040–1105). Others are to be found in Baisingen, Essen, Groebzig, Halberstadt, Ichenhausen, Rendsburg, and Veitshoechheim. The site of Jewish Museum Creglingen was a Jewish property from 1618 which was restored to Jewish ownership in 1998 by a descendant of the original owner.

In Prague, Salomon Hugo *Lieben (1881–1942), a historian, galvanized efforts to collect Judaica when urban renewal threatened the demolition of several historic synagogues. He founded the Verein zur Gruendung und Erhaltung eines juedisches Museums in Prag (Organization for the founding and Maintenance of a Jewish Museum in Prague). Lieben's efforts to preserve the Jewish cultural heritage of Bohemia and Moravia extended to rural villages as well. In 1926, the growing collection was moved into the former Ceremonial Hall of the Prague Hevra Kaddisha, the burial society, which is still used as an exhibit space for the museum. Lieben headed the museum until 1938. During World War ii the Prague synagogues and the museum were used as storehouses for confiscated Jewish property from Bohemia and Moravia. Ironically, a plan for preservation of the property in order to care for and promote the unique heritage of Jewish culture suggested by Dr. Karel Stein (1906–1961) led to the establishment of a Central Jewish Museum in Prague. The plan was accepted by the Nazis for a very different reason – they wanted to create a perfect storehouse – a resource for the study of the Jewish people from which future exhibitions could be developed. They presumed that the Jewish "race," as they termed it, would be extinct.

At the end of the war, the collection which numbered 1,000 objects in 1939, had over 100,000 catalog cards recording information about the over 200,000 objects, books, and archives handled by the museum staff. The museum, under the aegis of the Prague Jewish Community Council, renewed its work focusing on efforts to return property to individuals and to any re-established Jewish communities. However, by 1949, the council determined it could no longer maintain the historic buildings in Prague’s Jewish Quarter or the museum collections. In April 1950 the Prague Jewish Museum was taken over by the state and placed under the control of the Ministry of Education. Finally, in October 1994, five years after the fall of the Communist government, the museum was returned to the Federation of Jewish communities of the Czech Republic. In addition to the former ceremonial hall of the Prague burial society, the exhibits are housed in five historic synagogues. Across Bohemia and Moravia, with the leadership of the Jewish Museum in Prague, sites are being researched, reclaimed, and preserved. A number of restored synagogues, some of which serve other functions such as concert halls, also have museums including in Boskovice, Decín, Holešov, Kolin, Mikulov-Nikolsburg, Plzeň, Polná, Rakovnik, Rychnov, Slavkov-Austerlitz, and Trěbíč.

In the Slovak Republic the Museum of Jewish Culture in Slovakia was established in 1991 Bratislava as part of the Slovak National Museum. The Jewish Museum Prešov housed in the restored 1898 synagogue is seen as the successor to the museum organized in 1928 by Rabbi Theodore Austerlitz and Eugen Bárkány. That collection was among those sent to Prague during the war and when returned became part of the Bratislava collection.

The Jewish museum in Budapest was founded in 1910 and officially opened in 1916. In 1932, under the direction of Erno Naményi (d. 1958), the museum, which had fallen on hard times, reopened in a building attached to the famed Dohány Synagogue. During the war, the most important of the museum’s objects were crated and hidden in the basement of the Hungarian National Museum, fortunately these were returned in good order. After the war, Naményi and others worked to restore the museum. The museum was reopened in 1947, but the next years would be difficult. Ilona Benoschofsky, director for two decades from 1963, with the expertise of renowned manuscript scholar Alexander Scheiber catalogued the collection. The museum underwent a major renovation in the 1990s.

The Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade, Serbia, was established in 1948 and since 1969 has been housed in the Federation of Jewish Communities building. The collection includes many objects saved during World War ii and later returned to Jewish hands and the archives document many destroyed Jewish communities. Marking the 400th anniversary of Sephardi settlement in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a museum of the history of the Jews was opened in Sarajevo in 1965 in the synagogue built in 1580. Closed during the Bosnian War, the museum has not reopened. The famed Sarajevo Haggadah was put on display in the National Museum in 2002. The Jewish Museum in Sofia, Bulgaria is located adjacent to the Sofia Central Synagogue. In Dubrovnik, Croatia a museum was established in the 17th-century Kahal Adat Yisrael Synagogue which was restored and rededicated in 1997. In Bucharest, the Museum of the Jewish Community in Romania opened in the former Great Synagogue in 1992.

The demographics of the Jewish world rapidly shifted with the onset of a wave of pogroms in Eastern Europe beginning in 1881 following the assassination of Czar Alexander II. No longer willing to endure the poverty and degradation, over two million Jews left Eastern Europe and moved westward, with the United States, and the promise of economic opportunity and religious and political freedom, the chosen destination of the majority of them. Even as many were leaving there were already profound changes taking place within Jewish society, as many Jews had begun to abandon traditional Judaism as they sought a more modern way of life. Simon Dubnow (1860–1941) issued what was the earliest appeal to recognize the importance of the historical documents and other cultural artifacts of the Jews of Eastern Europe. The rapid changes in Jewish life also motivated the well-known author S. *An-Ski (Solomon Zainwil Rapoport, 1863–1920) to organize an expedition to collect documents, ceremonial objects, and ethnographic artifacts and to gather folktales and songs. An-Ski's motivation was the idealistic belief that the materials collected would provide a source for a Jewish cultural renaissance. The collecting efforts went on from 1912 to 1914 throughout the Ukraine, Podolia, and Volhynia. Even during the war, An-Ski, dressed as a Russian officer and working with the Red Cross, continued to salvage what he could from destroyed Jewish villages on the Galician front. The An-Ski collection was deposited in the State Ethnographic Museum in St. Petersburg. There is now also a Jewish Museum in St. Petersburg which sees its work as being in the tradition of An-Ski and of the first Jewish museum which closed in 1929.

An-Ski escaped from Russia in 1918 and made his way to Vilna. Though in poor health, he re-established the museum founded by the Society of Lovers of Jewish Antiquity in 1913, its collection having been destroyed during the war. *yivo, the Yidisher Visenshaftlikher Institute (Institute for Jewish Research) founded in Berlin in 1925, with Vilna selected to be the central site of the new organization, became the most important center for research on Eastern European Jewish art and ethnography. In 1939 Max *Weinreich (1894–1969), co-founder and guiding light of yivo, was on a lecture tour in Finland when the Germans invaded Poland. He made his way to New York and immediately began to work to keep yivo active. Fortunately, a large portion of the collection of books, manuscripts, and archival items looted by the Germans was recovered after the war and transferred to yivo's new home in New York.

During the war, Herman Kruk (1897–1944) led a heroic effort of cultural resistance by maintaining a library in the ghetto and collecting ceremonial objects, artwork, and other cultural artifacts belonging to deported Jews and in abandoned Jewish institutions. Aware that the Nazis were on to their plan Kruk and a few assistants known as the "Paper Brigade" attempted to hide rare books and documents. Two survivors of the Paper brigade, Abraham Sutzkever and Smerke Kaczerginski, returned to Vilna in July 1944 with the Soviet army liberating the city. Little remained, but they determined to reopen the Jewish museum. Beset with difficulties from the authorities, the museum staff shipped out what they could from Soviet Vilnius. The museum was shut down in 1948. After the breakup of the former Soviet Union, yivo documents were discovered in Vilnius in a church used by the Lithuanian national library for storage. Though not returned to yivo, a compromise was reached and the documents were sent to New York to be microfilmed then sent back to Vilnius. In 1989, a new Jewish museum was established in Vilnius as the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. On October 3, 2000, the Lithuanian Parliament voted to return 300 scrolls from the holdings of the National Library to the Jewish people. In January 2002, a delegation from Israel led by then Ashkenazi chief rabbi Israel Meir *Lau, himself a survivor, traveled to Vilnius to bring the scrolls to Israel. yivo now a partner in the Center for Jewish History which opened in New York in the spring of 2000 expanded its scope of work after the move to New York, with the scholarly mission adding a focus on the influence of East European Jewish culture as it has developed in the Americas.

Another group of objects rediscovered in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union were artifacts from the private collection of Maksymilian Goldstein (1880–1942) and which, along with the contents of the Lvov (Lviv) Jewish Community Museum, were feared to have been destroyed or lost during World War iI. Today the collection is housed in the Ukrainian Museum of Ethnography and Artistic Crafts. Goldstein had placed his collection with the museum after the German occupation 1942. Though the movement to form a collection in Lvov had been spearheaded by Goldstein, there was interest in the general community to form such a collection. The nationalist impulse was a major factor, and indeed, Jewish objects had already been displayed at the Municipal Museum as early as 1894 as part of a regional exhibition.

A Jewish museum established by the Jewish Cultural League in Kiev in 1920 existed for about a decade and another in Odessa, also closed in the 1930s. Plundered by the Nazis, the Odessa collection was removed to Germany and was discovered in Bavaria by British forces after the war. The Museum of the History of Odessa's Jews opened in 2002 during an international conference. Other Jewish Museums in the Ukraine are located in Nikolaev, Simferopol, and Sevastopol.

In Belarus, the Marc Chagall Museum, opened in the artist's boyhood home in Vitebsk in 1992. In Riga, the Museum of the Jews in Latvia is housed in the Jewish Community Center and highlights many important Jewish personalities from Latvia, including R. Abraham *Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine during the period of the British Mandate. With the political change in Russia, there even are now plans to develop a major Jewish museum in Moscow to be located in a former bus depot donated by the government.

In Poland, Matthias Bersohn (1823–1908) spearheaded the effort to establish a Jewish museum in Warsaw. Bersohn also contributed to ethnographic and folklore studies with his photographic survey of wooden synagogues in Poland. The museum in Warsaw which opened in 1910 was founded with his bequest. The museum was destroyed during the bombardment of Warsaw in 1939. The Museum of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw began its activities in 1948, the first museum to collect artifacts of the Jewish cultural heritage in the postwar period. In the early 21st century building plans were underway for a new museum.

Bersohn's survey was expanded through the efforts of Majer Balaban (1877–1942), a Lvov native and historian of Polish Jewry who photographed Jewish landmarks, life, and artifacts. In Krakow in 1935, Balaban encouraged the creation of a Jewish museum to preserve the many treasures of the large synagogues, the Stara Synagoga, the Rema Synagogue, and the Hoyche Schul. During the war the collection was plundered and the Stara Synagoga was used as a warehouse by the Nazis. Restored after the war, since 1958 the synagogue has housed a Museum of Jewish History and Culture as a branch of the Krakow History Museum. A Jewish museum was established in Breslau (now Wroclaw) in 1929, also by a Society of friends, the Verein Juedisches Museum Breslau.

In Danzig (Gdansk, Poland, since 1945) a museum was founded in the Great Synagogue in 1904 when Lesser Gieldzinski (1830–1910) presented his private collection of Judaica to the synagogue to commemorate his 75th birthday. In 1939, the Gieldzinski Collection, along with the ceremonial objects of the Great Synagogue of Danzig, was sent to the Jewish Museum in New York. An agreement stipulated that if after 15 years there were no safe and free Jews in Danzig the objects were to remain in America for the education and inspiration of the rest of the world.

[Grace Cohen Grossman (2nd ed.)]

Ereẓ Israel

The history of Jewish museums in Ereẓ Israel began with the efforts of Boris *Schatz, who founded the *Bezalel School for Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem. The Lithuanian-born Schatz (1866–1932) trained in Paris and in 1895 became court sculptor to Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria. In a meeting with Theodor Herzl in 1903 Schatz proposed his vision for an art school that meshed with Zionist ideology. He chose the name of the biblical artist Bezalel as a symbol of the continuity of art in Jewish life. Schatz expressed that his mission was for a Jewish art to come into being which would weave together the cultural threads that had been pulled apart and damaged during the 2,000 years of the Diaspora experience. His idealism was tempered with reality for he planned for the students to learn crafts, which could be sold to help support the school. In the wake of Herzl's untimely death at age 44 in 1904, Schatz sought the backing of various Zionist institutions. His proposal was officially accepted at the 1905 Zionist Congress and the school was launched a year later. The Bezalel Museum was founded soon thereafter. By 1910, Bezalel had 32 different departments, over 500 students and a ready market for its works in Jewish communities in Europe and the United States. The school was closed during World War i and again after Schatz passed away in 1932. The museum was incorporated into the *Israel Museum when it opened in 1964 as the national museum (see below). The Bezalel Academy of Art and Design remains as a premier art school today.

From its beginnings in the mid-19th century archaeologists have actively explored the land of Israel seeking evidence of the rich heritage of cultures and civilizations of the peoples who have played a part in shaping its history. Some 15,000 archaeological sites are currently known and new ones are discovered all the time. Though of course many date well before the period of the Israelites and span in time to much later settlers, the sense of being enveloped by history is all-encompassing. Numerous excavation sites have become archaeological parks.

It is perhaps emblematic of how deeply museums are en-twined with history that David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the State of Israel in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Independence Hall is located in what was originally the home of Meir *Dizengoff, first mayor of Tel Aviv. Dizengoff gave it to the city for the creation of an art museum. With its rich collections of modern paintings, sculpture, and graphic art, and its many visiting exhibits, the museum was housed in a new building in 1971. Founded in 1932, it expanded with the addition of the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion in 1958.

The complex Ha-Areẓ ("Homeland") Museum started with nine separate pavilions: museums for glass, ceramics, numismatics, ethnography and folklore, science and technology (including a planetarium), antiquities of Jaffa and Tel Aviv, the history of Tel Aviv, the alphabet, and Tel Qasile excavations. There are also ten other museums in Tel Aviv, including a Museum of Man and his Work, the Haganah, and the Jabotinsky Museum.

The Israel Museum, situated in the heart of modern Jerusalem, houses a collection of Jewish and world art, the archaeology of the Holy Land, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The museum was founded to collect, preserve, study, and display the cultural and artistic treasures of the Jewish people throughout its long history as well as the art, ethnology, and archeology of the Land of Israel and its neighboring countries. It also aims at encouraging original Israeli art. The exhibition area totaled 17,000 sq. m. (about 20,500 sq. yd.) with an additional 19,000 sq. m. (about 23,000 sq. yd.) for storage, laboratories, workshops, a library, and offices, including those of the Israel government Department of Antiquities. The museum includes the Billy Rose Art Garden and the Shrine of the Book.

The Haifa municipality administers museums of ancient and modern art, a maritime museum, and the "Dagon," a grain museum showing the cultivation and storage of grain through the ages.

No section of the country is without its regional and local museums, most of them created and maintained to satisfy the intense interest of the people in their past. In the north, *Beth-Shean, the ancient fortress city guarding the road from the east, displays a collection of archaeological finds and mosaics from the town and its environs; at the nearby kibbutz *Nir David is a museum of Mediterranean archaeology. The Mishkan le-Ommanut, the art museum at kibbutz *En-Harod, the first rural museum in the country, started in 1933. The object of this museum is to collect Jewish art, and it has already a rich collection of Jewish painting, sculpture, and Jewish folk art from all over the world. Beit Sturman at En-Harod exhibits the history and archaeology of the region. Wilfred Israel House, at kibbutz *Ha-Zore'a, exhibits artistic objects from the Far East and archaeological finds from the village fields; Bet Ussishkin, in kibbutz *Dan, is both a natural history museum for the Ḥuleh region and the site museum for the excavations at nearby Tel Dan. There are museums at *Ḥanitah and *Sasa in Upper Galilee, Tiberias and Nazareth in Lower Galilee, *Ayyelet ha-Shaḥar by ancient *Ḥazor, *Bet She'arim, close to the Jewish necropolis of the talmudic period, and *Megiddo with its imposing mound.

The coastal region is represented by municipal museums in *Acre, site museums in *Sedot Yam showing the antiquities of *Caesarea, and *Ma'agan Mikha'el showing objects found in the sea; the regional museum at Midreshet Ruppin in Hefer Plain exemplifies the local flora and fauna, as well as the history of the area's modern villages and their ancient sites. In the Negev, Beersheba has an archaeological museum; the kibbutzim Gevulot, Kissufim, Mishmar ha-Negev, and Nirim have their own collections; the site museums of Masadah, En-Gedi, Arad, and Avedat exhibit representative collections of the finds; *Eilat has a museum of modern art, as well as a maritime museum.

Since 1948, museums have flourished throughout Israel and today number over 150. Among them are numerous museums devoted to topics of Jewish and Israeli history, Jewish art, ceremonial art, ethnography and folklore. Important collections have been developed reflecting the ingathering to Israel of refugees from Europe and Arab Lands. An important development in recent years has been the focus on the vibrant legacies of communities like Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Iraq, Morocco, Yemen and of Jews who lived under Ottoman rule.

[Avraham Biran /

Grace Cohen Grossman (2nd ed.)]

The Americas

united states

The oldest collection of Judaica in the United States was established in 1887 as part of a department of comparative religion at the Smithsonian Institution. The collection was acquired under the direction of Cyrus *Adler (1863–1940), a young curator who had just completed his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University, the first to be awarded in the field of Semitics in the United States. Like his compatriots in England who organized the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition, Adler intended that the collection of Jewish ceremonial objects be used in educational exhibitions in order to counteract ignorance of Judaism and prejudice against Jews. Adler was also a central figure in the founding of the *American Jewish Historical Society in 1892. The ajhs, which has the distinction of being the first ethnic historical organization in the United States, pioneered the collection of archives, books, and artifacts of American Jewry.

In 1904, Judge Mayer *Sulzberger (1843–1923) presented the Jewish Theological Seminary Library in New York with a gift of 26 ceremonial objects to serve as the nucleus for a Jewish museum. Judge Sulzberger was a cousin of Cyrus Adler's, who by this time had become president of jts in addition to his responsibilities at the Smithsonian. In 1925, Adler was responsible for the acquisition of the collection of Hadji Ephraim Benguiat (d. 1918), an antique dealer who amassed the earliest collection of Sephardic Jewish objects, which he brought to the United States in 1888 and which was displayed at the 1893 World's Fair and subsequently at the Smithsonian Institution. The ominous storm clouds gathering in Europe in the late 1930s brought two additional collections to the museum. The first, through the American Jewish *Joint Distribution Committee, was the Danzig Collection. The second was the collection of Benjamin and Rose Mintz which they brought to the United States from Poland in 1939. The Mintz Collection was purchased by the museum in 1947.

In 1947, the *Jewish Museum moved to its own quarters in the former Warburg Mansion on Fifth Avenue. Stephen Kayser (1900–1988) and Guido Schoenberger (1891–1974), both distinguished art historians and émigrés from Nazi Germany, set a standard of leadership in exhibitions and collections development for nearly two decades. The collection would grow even more with the gift of 10,000 objects from museum supporter Harry G. Friedman (d. 1965), who began acquiring Judaica during the war years. The Jewish Cultural Reconstruction (jcr) was based at the Jewish Museum through 1952. In the aftermath of World War ii, the jcr was the organization given the authority by the U.S. State Department to identify and redistribute Nazi looted Jewish ceremonial objects, archives, and books for which no heirs could be found that were located in the American Occupied Sector of Germany. Salo W. *Baron (1895–1989), pre-eminent Jewish historian, spearheaded the campaign to form the jcr, which included representatives of all the major Jewish national and international organizations and served as its president. Hannah *Arendt (1906–1979), political philosopher and author, was the executive secretary for day-to-day operations.

A pioneering initiative was the establishment in 1956 of the Tobe Pascher Workshop for contemporary ceremonial art, whose founding director was Ludwig Wolpert (1900–1981), a German-trained silversmith who came from his home in Jerusalem to direct the workshop. Another was the annual commission by collectors of contemporary art, Albert and Vera List, to commission prominent American artists to make an original graphic for the museum for the Jewish New Year.

From 1970, when Joy Ungerleider-Mayerson (1920–1994), archaeologist and philanthropist, became director, and during the tenure of her successor Joan Rosenbaum beginning in 1980, the museum has continued to actively develop its collections and to present a wide-ranging series of exhibitions and programs. In recent years, The Jewish Museum has focused on presenting a series of major art exhibitions. The jts Library has maintained a large and important collection of illustrated manuscripts, illuminated ceremonial texts, and prints.

A second Jewish Museum was founded at the Hebrew Union College Library in Cincinnati in 1913 through the impetus of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, whose members recognized the merit of saving family heirlooms. The huc Librarian Adolph Oko (1883–1944) undertook to develop the museum by acquiring important collections in Europe. His crowning achievement was the purchase of the Salli Kirschstein collection in 1926. Unfortunately, the collections remained in storage for many years until the museum was officially reestablished in 1948 by then president Dr. Nelson *Glueck (1900–1971), a pioneering biblical archaeologist who contributed to the museums growth by depositing artifacts from his excavation in Israel. Franz Landsberger (1883–1964), former director of the Berlin Jewish Museum, rescued through the displaced European Jewish Scholars program, became director of the museum and he was succeeded by Joseph *Gutmann (1923–2004), who became one of the preeminent scholars in the field of Jewish art. In 1947, Jacob Rader *Marcus (1896–1995) established the American Jewish Archives at huc, which now bears his name. The Union Museum was renamed the Skirball Museum when the collection was moved to Los Angeles in 1972. During a 30-year tenure as director, Nancy Berman fostered the growth of the collection with a focus on contemporary Judaica. In 1996, the museum opened in greatly expanded quarters in the new *Skirball Cultural Center. Exhibitions and related programs reflect the mission of the cultural center to explore the connections between 4,000 years of Jewish history and American democratic values. A branch of the Skirball Museum is in Cincinnati and the huc Klau Library in Cincinnati maintains an important collection of visual arts. Established in 1983, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum in New York presents exhibitions illuminating Jewish history, culture, and contemporary creativity. The Skirball Museum of Biblical Archaeology in Jerusalem exhibits archaeological artifacts discovered during the huc-jir excavations from 1963 to the present.

Fortuitously some major synagogues saved historic commemorative artifacts as well as important ceremonial objects that later formed the basis of museum collections in those congregations. Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York established a collection in 1928 with the gift of the private collection of Henry Toch, a trustee, and dedicated the Herbert and Eileen Bernard Museum decades later in 1997. In the post-World War iI era, new Jewish museums slowly began to be founded in the United States. While it took another generation before the American Jewish community focused efforts on creating Holocaust memorials and museums, in the aftermath of the destruction of the European Jewish community, there was a new sense of the importance for Jews in the United States and in the new state of Israel to preserve Jewish culture. The first formally established synagogue museum, at Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, was dedicated in 1950 by the eminent Rabbi Abba Hillel *Silver (1893–1963) in 1950 on the occasion of the centennial anniversary of the congregation.

The Leo Baeck Institute, dedicated to the history of German-speaking Jewry, was founded in New York in 1955. The B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Museum in Washington, dc, was founded in 1957. The core of its collection was the gift of Joseph B. and Olyn Horwitz of Cleveland. The Judah L. Magnes Museum is in Berkeley, California in 1962. The prime mover behind the founding of the museum and its director for more than 30 years was Seymour Fromer, who built the collection as a community-based endeavor, without the resources of a parent institution. The Spertus Museum of Judaica was created in Chicago in 1968 in large measure with the private collection of Maurice Spertus. Two additional Jewish museums were founded in the 1970s. The Yeshiva University Museum in New York was officially opened in 1973, but the university did maintain some collections of Jewish art in its library prior to that time. Sylvia Herskowitz was the director of the museum from its opening. The *National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia opened in 1976 in honor of the Bicentennial of the United States. The museum is located across Independence Mall from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. It shares its site with Congregation Mikveh Israel, one of the oldest synagogues in America.

In 1977, at a meeting of the Association of Jewish Studies, Dov Noy, professor of Jewish folklore of the Hebrew University, proposed that the U.S. Jewish museums form an organization to further the efforts of the museums to "collect, preserve, and interpret Jewish art and artifacts." The Council of American Jewish Museums (cajm), affiliated since 1980 with the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, has now grown to represent over 80 institutional and associate members.

In the late 1970s planning began for the *United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. which opened in 1993. The ushmm serves as America's national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history, and as the memorial of the United States to the millions of victims. Through its multifaceted programs, the museum's mission is "to advance and disseminate knowledge about this unprecedented tragedy; to preserve the memory of those who suffered; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy." The ushmm is a Federal institution. There are Holocaust memorials in communities throughout the United States and many Holocaust museums. The *Simon Wiesenthal Center, Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which opened in 1993 is named in honor of the survivor and well-known Nazi hunter Simon *Wiesenthal and is dedicated to the cause of human rights. The *Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York opened in 1997. It is sited in view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and just five blocks form the former site of the World Trade Center. The museum was "created as a living memorial to the Holocaust" to honor the lives and legacy of the victims of the Holocaust even as it recounts the tragedy of their deaths.

The tremendous growth in interest in preserving Jewishcultural heritage has reached communities large and small throughout the United States. An important aspect of the work of many of these museums is the focus on local and regional history. The Gomez Hill House, built in Marlboro, New York in 1714 by Luis Moses Gomez, a Sephardi immigrant, is the oldest surviving homestead in the country and a foundation to preserve it was established in 1979. Museums have been formed in a number of historically important synagogues. The Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, built in 1763, was the first prominent synagogue to be built in America, and is the only one to survive from the colonial era. The beginnings of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina can be traced to 1775. The temple and a museum are housed in an 1841 Greek Revival building that is the second oldest synagogue in the United States and the oldest in continuous use. The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington is housed in the Adas Israel Synagogue dedicated in 1876. The Beth Ahabah Museum and Archives in Richmond, Virginia, maintains materials dating back to the 18th century. The Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore is unique in that it saved and restored two historic structures – the Lloyd Street Synagogue of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation built in 1845 and the original house of worship of the Chizuk Amuno Congregation which dates to 1876 – and incorporated them into a museum complex. The Eldridge Street Synagogue, completed in 1887, was the first designed and built in America by immigrants from Eastern Europe. The Vilna Shul, built in 1919, is now the Boston Center for Jewish Heritage.

The Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, now incorporated as part of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of the Southern Jewish Experience, was founded in 1986, through the initiative of Macy Hart to represent Jewish culture in the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee and is now endeavoring to cover all 12 states of the South. With changing demographics especially in rural communities and small towns, the Jewish population in them has dwindled or no longer exists. The collection in many ways serves as a rescue mission. In addition to collecting artifacts and archives, the museum provides planning assistance for congregations, works to save historic properties, and to care for untended cemeteries. The museum is also a genealogical center. The Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach restored Congregation Beth Jacob, an art deco building dating from 1936. The museum originated as mosaicb, a project organized by Marcia Kerstein Zerivitz, as a statewide grassroots preservation effort on the history of Jewish life in Florida. The Oregon Jewish Museum was founded in 1986 and in 1996 merged with the Jewish Historical Society of Oregon, acquiring its archives of 150 years of Jewish experience in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

Numerous other Jewish museums have been established in synagogues and in Jewish community centers including: the Sylvia Plotkin Museum at Temple Beth Israel in Scottsdale, Arizona; the Elizabeth S. and Alvin I. Fine Museum of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco; the San Francisco Jewish Museum originated in 1982 at the Jewish Federation and is developing a major new site designed by Daniel Libeskind; the Gotthelf Gallery at the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture; the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture in Denver; the Chase/Freedman Gallery of the Greater Hartford Jewish Community Center; the Harold and Vivian Beck Museum of Judaica at the Beth David Congregation in Miami, Florida; the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta, Georgia; the Rabbi Frank F. Rosenthal Memorial Museum at Temple Anshe Sholom in Olympia Fields, Illinois; the Kansas City Jewish Museum; the Goldsmith Museum at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland; the Janice Charach Epstein Gallery at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit, Michigan; the Temple Israel Judaic Archival Museum in West Bloomfield, Michigan; the Benjamin and Dr. Edgar R. Cofeld Judaica Museum of Temple Beth Zion; the Judaica Museum of the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale; the Judaica Museum of Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn, New York; Judaica Museum of Central Synagogue in New York City; Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum in New York City; the Rosenzweig Museum and the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina in Durham; the Sherwin Miller Museum at the Tulsa Jewish Community Center in Oklahoma; the American Jewish Museum of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh; Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia; Temple Judea Museum of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; Mollie and Louis Kaplan Judaica Museum at Congregation Beth Yeshurun in Houston, Texas; Rabbi Joseph Baron Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

A unique initiative was the creation of the *National Yiddish Book Center founded in 1980 to rescue Yiddish books. The center's headquarters in Amherst, Massachusetts, is described as a lively "cultural shtetl." The newest and most ambitious Jewish cultural entity to be established in the United States is the Center for Jewish History located in New York City which opened in 2000. The center houses the combined holdings of the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, the Leo Baeck Institute, the Yeshiva University Museum, and the yivo Institute for Jewish Research. The Center for Jewish History is the largest repository of Jewish artifacts, archives, and historical materials in the United States. Undoubtedly the brightest note in the Jewish museum world in the United States is the focus on special installations for children and the creation of independent Jewish children's museums including the Zimmer Children's Museum in Los Angeles, the Jewish Children's Museum in Brooklyn and the Jewish Children's Learning Lab in New York City.


In Canada, the Beth Tzedec Reuben & Helene Dennis Museum in Toronto was established in 1965 with the purchase of Cecil Roth's collection. Roth, a pre-eminent scholar of Jewish history and founder of the London Jewish Museum, formed his collection over a 50-year period. Also in Toronto is the Silverman Heritage Museum, located at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. The Royal Ontario Museum maintains a gallery of Jewish ceremonial objects. Jewish historical societies document life in several cities across Canada in Alberta; Vancouver, British Columbia; Winnepeg, Manitoba; St. John, New Brunswick; and in Montreal, Quebec.

latin america

Several Jewish Museums are active in Latin America. In Argentina, the Museo Judio de Buenos Aires established in 1967 and re-opened in 2000 is located in the Congregación Israelite. It is dedicated to the Jewish historical contribution to the Argentine Republic. A museum dedicated to Jewish immigration is located in Moiséville. A museum is being planned in Cochambamba, Bolivia. The Jewish Museum in Rio de Janeiro was established in 1977. In Chile, there is the Sephardic Historical Museum in Santiago and in Valparaiso there is a Jewish museum and the Israelite Society of Education "Max Nordau." The Museo Historico Judio "Tuvie Maizel" is located in the Ashkenazi community headquarters in Mexico City. The Jewish Museum of Paraguay, established in 1990, is located in Asunción. In Venezuela, the Separdi Museum of Caracus "Morris E. Curiel" was founded in 1998.

the caribbean

Mikvé Israel Emanuel Synagogue in Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles, was founded in 1651 and its current building, which dates to 1732 is the oldest continuously functioning congregation in the western hemisphere. The museum opened in 1970. The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas was established in 1796. The present building dates to 1833. The community celebrated its bicentennial in 1995 and the Weibel Museum was created to commemorate the history of the Jews in the community. Plans are underway to develop a Jewish museum in Kingston, Jamaica.


In Melbourne, Australia Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky, London born and raised, initiated plans for a Jewish museum which was established in 1982. An important focus of the museum has been the acquisition of archives, art, and artifacts reflecting the 200 years of Jewish experience in Australia which "helps strengthen and define our identity as Jewish Australians." Originally housed at the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation, the museum moved to new quarters opposite the stately 1927 St. Kilda Synagogue in 1995. The Sydney Jewish Museum established in 1992 is dedicated to the documenting and teaching about the Holocaust.

South Africa

In Capetown, South Africa a new cultural and heritage center opened in 2000 and located on a site which over a century ago had served a growing immigrant population from Europe. Vivienne Anstey, who directed the effort to develop the new museum, wrote of the South African Jewish community that it has "grappled with the responsibility of upholding moral and religious values aimed to serve the needs of its own community and the needs of South Africans in general. It has walked the tightrope in its integration in the South African context, at the same time dedicating itself to Jewish continuity." Adjacent to the new South Africa Jewish Museum is the Cape Town Holocaust Centre. There are also Jewish museums in Calvinia, in Malmesbury in the former synagogue, the C.P. Nel Museum in Oudtshoorn, the Jewish Pioneers' Museum in Port Elizabeth, and in Pretoria there is the Sammy Marks Museum, a historic house of this South African Jewish pioneer who immigrated from Lithuania in the mid-nineteenth century.


The Paradesi Synagogue in Cochin, India was built in 1568 by descendants of Spanish, Dutch, and other European Jews. Though the synagogue is still functioning, the Cochin Jewish community intends to deed the synagogue to the Indian government as a historic monument when the last Jews have left Cochin. Restoration work on the synagogue was made possible by the Yad Hanadiv Foundation under the leadership of Jacob Lord Rothschild. There are several historic synagogues in Mumbai (Bombay) that are preserved including the Gate of Mercy Synagogue (Shaar Harachmim) built in 1796, Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, and the Tifereth Israel Synagogue.


The Ohel Rachel Synagogue in Shanghai, China, built in 1920 by Sir Victor Sassoon is currently being renovated, although it is not yet in use again for worship services. Once a center of Jewish life for the 30,000 Jews who found refuge in Shanghai, first when fleeing the 1905 pogroms of Russia, and then from Nazi persecution, the synagogue was last used for services in 1952. The building was then confiscated by the Communist government. Attention was given to the preservation efforts when the synagogue was visited by then First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton in 1998. Ohel Rachel was added to the World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in 2002. The Ohel Moishe Synagogue, the Jewish Refugee Memorial Hall of Shanghai, was the center of religious life for Jewish refugees during World War ii. The museum was established in 2002.

Ongoing Endeavors

The search for art and artifacts of the 4,000-year long Jewish experience continues and new finds are regularly being discovered. The most ambitious effort to document the visual culture of the Jewish people is the Index of Jewish Art of the Centre for Jewish Art established in 1980 at the Hebrew University. Founded by Bezalel *Narkiss, the centre has ongoing research projects in Europe and in Israel, presents symposia on a wide-range of projects, maintains an active publications program, including the annual journal Jewish Art and organizes tours to Jewish sites. A center for the study of Jewish art has been created at Bar-Ilan University and has published its first journal. The International Survey of Jewish Monuments, spearheaded by Samuel Gruber in the United States, has been actively involved not only in identifying and studying historic Jewish sites in over 35 countries that are in need of preservation, but in spearheading efforts to undertake the needed work. The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation supports vital educational programs and community projects in Central and Eastern Europe with a special focus on developing schools and camps. The commitment on the part of the Lauder Foundation to "pick up the pieces of a history shattered by Nazism and stifled by Communism" includes preservation efforts as well. Ronald Lauder has also long chaired the Jewish Heritage Program of the World Monuments Fund. Centropa is a project of the Central Europe Center for Research and Documentation, with headquarters in Vienna. The vision of its director, photographer and filmmaker Edward Serotta, an international team works to explore both the history of the Jewish communities and what is currently happening to Jews in Central and Eastern Europe the former Soviet Union, and Turkey & the Balkans, to convey that information to the public through a variety of technologies.

Holocaust Memorials and Museums

The importance of memory is central to all of the efforts in developing Jewish museums, but it is even more so in the dedication of Holocaust memorials and museums. It is a remarkable phenomenon that so many Holocaust memorials and museums have been established in recent years. In 1969, the American Jewish Congress published In Everlasting Remembrance: A Guide to Memorials and Monuments Honoring the Six Million. The slim booklet, only 48 pages in length, was compiled so that American Jews visiting Europe could visit the sites "where European Jewry suffered its catastrophe," the rationale being so that the American Jew could "remember as a witness, to recall the particulars of the Holocaust by [his] presence at the actual sites." At the time, there were but 20 listings. Of the 17 in Europe, most were at sites of ghettos and concentration camps, the Anne Frank House was listed for Amsterdam. Memorials in Brussels and London were only in the planning stages. In Israel, a documentation center and museum had opened in 1951 at kibbutz *Lohamei ha-Getta'ot, at Ghetto Fighters House. *Yad Vashem, the Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority, was created by an Act of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) in 1953. In the United States, plans had just been developed for a memorial in New York City, designed by architect Louis Kahn, and sponsored by a coalition of more than 30 national and local Jewish organizations. The original Kahn design was never realized.

Three decades later, the publication of the Association of Holocaust Organizations includes hundreds of listings. The mission of the Association is "to serve as a network of organizations and individuals for the advancement of Holocaust programming, awareness, education, and research." Today, around the world, millions of people visit Holocaust memorials and museums annually. The places of memory differ widely. As James Young wrote in his 1994 book The Art of Memory, "the reasons for Holocaust memorials and the kind of memory they generate vary as widely as the sites themselves. Some are built in response to traditional Jewish injunctions to remember, others according to a government's need to explain a nation's past to itself." In 1993, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in Washington, d.c., adjacent to the national mall and within view of monuments to U.S. Presidents Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson. During the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany many more Holocaust memorials and museums have been created or are in the planning stages. Perhaps most symbolic among them, a Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is situated close by the restored Reichstag (parliament) under a law passed on the Tenth Anniversary of the Treaty of German Unity, the so called "Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and Future." (See also *Holocaust: Museums.)

[Grace Cohen Grossman (2nd ed.)]


G.C. Grossman, Jewish Museums of the World (2003); N. Folberg, And I Shall Dwell Among Them: Historic Synagogues of the World (1995); B.G. Frank, A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe (1996); R.E. Gruber, Jewish Heritage Travel Guide: A Guide to East-Central Europe (1999); S. Offe, Juedische Museen in Deutschland und Oesterreich (2000); N. Rosovsky and J. Ungerleider-Mayerson, Jewish Museums of Israel (1989); A. Sacerdoti (series ed.), Itinerari Ebraici (1992– ); J.E. Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (1993); M. Zaidner (ed.), Jewish Travel Guide (2003).


views updated May 18 2018


It is often assumed that museums have been a permanent feature of society, simply because they contain some of the oldest things in the world. In fact, in their current form, museums are surprisingly recent in origin, almost entirely Western in conception, internally confused about their identity, and unsure of their future role.

Museums in the early twenty-first century claim descent from the Museum in Alexandria established in the third century b.c.e., but this is only partly true. That museuma Latin word derived from the Greek mouseion, meaning seat of the museswas an attempt to bring all the fields of human knowledge together into one place. Its library was its most famous feature, complemented with a collection of artifacts. Contemporary accounts describe a huge complex of buildings, including seminar rooms and banqueting halls. It was more like a prototype university than a museum.

The British Museum, effectively the mother of all modern museums, was established in 1753 as a direct emulation of the museum in Alexandria, but this time as a public service, not as an educational institution open only to scholars. Its ambition also was to bring all human knowledge together into one place. Its library, again, was by far its most important feature. The idea that artifacts could be separated from books in the learning process did not emerge until well more than a century later, and then largely for reasons of administrative convenience. It was not until 1998 that the British Library was separated physically from the British Museum, which in the early 2000s is a totally different institution from the one that opened its doors 250 years ago, and yet it still proudly claims that its collection has remained "inviolable" since then. It is in this way that museums create myths about their permanence, though their role has in fact changed out of all recognition over the centuries.


Museums owe their origins to three traits in human nature: the desire to understand the universe, the wish to appreciate the artifacts museums contain, and the impetus to educate others. Each of these motivations has its own history, but none, by itself, necessitates the creation of a museum. One might, for example, have no more need for the objects used in one's research when what was being sought was found. Many archaeological remains are now replaced in the ground whence they came. If one wants to appreciate something, one will tend to look after it, but that does not mean that one will necessarily want to share it with anyone else, apart from a chosen few. This appears to have been the ethos behind the earliest art gallery in the world, the Pinakotheke, established on the Acropolis in Athens in the fifth century b.c.e. As far can be determined from cursory contemporary accounts (nothing physical remains), the museum had a religious purpose and showed paintings for the initiatesand the gods themselvesto view. Though it might have been open to the general public, it would be two millennia before galleries were specially created with that purpose in mind. It was not until there was a commitment to universal education that the modern concept of the museum took root and flourished.

Museums did not emerge at all in societies where the scientific study of the material world was not valued, for example, in ancient China and India, nor in countries dominated by religions that focused people's attention on the spiritual rather than the material world, such as Christianity during certain periods of its history and, more generally, Islam. Museums sprang from the approach to learning advocated by Aristotle: that people can only learn by studying the world around them and trusting the evidence of their own eyes, not by listening to others or reading what they have written.

Early Development

Museums only started to develop in the form in which they are currently know them at the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, when amateur scientists began to collect the material evidence of what was still widely assumed to be God's creation. By the sixteenth century many European noblemen had "cabinets of curiosities" containing the unaccountable wonders of nature, such as fossil teeth (thought to be satanic) and flint tools (thought to be thunderbolts) and, increasingly, natural and cultural artifacts gleaned from the newly discovered far-flung corners of the world. By the seventeenth century some of these collections had begun to be systematically studied and categorized. Ole Worm (15881654), a Danish doctor, used his vast collection to prove that so-called unicorn horns actually came from a species of Arctic whalemuch to the chagrin of Scandinavian fishermen, who plied a lucrative trade in supplying such wonders.

The approach of these early scientific collectors was, as it had been in ancient Greece, encyclopedic. The mere activity of collecting similar objects together and placing them in some sort of orderthe standard way of working in museums even in the twenty-first centurywas then an extremely exciting activity. Barriers of accepted thought were being broken on every front. Geological specimens proved that the earth was far older than anyone had imagined, fossils demonstrated the fact of extinction (thought, by most, to be an impossibility within divine creation), and coins revealed the existence of cultures and dynasties previously unknown to history. Without his vast collection of natural history specimens, Charles Darwin (18091882) might never have formulated his theory of evolution. Working in the Museum of Northern Antiquities in Copenhagen, Christian Jurgensen Thomsen (17881865) developed the system of classifying prehistory according to the material evidence of the ages of stone, bronze, and iron, the names by which they are still known. It is significant that the formation of the British Museum (and library) was exactly contemporaneous with the publication of Denis Diderot's great Encyclopédie in France.

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries public museums burgeoned throughout Europe and America, and soon in other societies influenced by them, such as South America, Australia, India, and South Africa. This was in response to two considerable and growing pressures: the new urge to collect and codify all material things, and the public's desire to see all these wonders. In those days the interests of the scholar and the general public were consanguineous. Crowds gathered to see the first stuffed kangaroo or dinosaur bone or the latest archaeological discovery from Peru. The field of enquiry that was opening was so vast that collectorsand therefore museumssoon began to specialize, dividing into subject areas such as natural history and geology, archaeology, and ethnology, which continue to define their form to this day.


The main impetus behind the extraordinary growth in museums during the last two centuriesfew cities around the world are now without severalhas been the growing awareness of the importance of public education. The roots of this egalitarian ideal also can be traced back to the Enlightenment, when people such as Diderot believed that knowledge would enable humankind to make the world a better place. His ideas for a national museum were put into practice by the leaders of the French Revolution: in 1792, just nine days after the Bourbon monarchy collapsed, the Louvre, at that time a royal palace, was transformed into a museum with the aim of embracing "knowledge in all its manifold beauty" so that it would, "by embodying these good ideas, worthy of a free people become among the most powerful illustrations of the French Republic." Napoléon Bonaparte was following a time-honored tradition when his armies plundered masterpieces of art from the territories they conquered, particularly in Egypt and Italy, and sent them to the Louvre. (Napoléon was, in this caseat least ostensiblyacting solely in the interests of the people. The Italian treasures were returned after his fall from power.)

Individuals and institutions have, since the earliest times and in almost all cultures, collected rare and precious objects as manifestations of their status. There is archaeological evidence of royal and religious treasuries from ancient civilizations as widespread as Peru, Assyria, Greece, and China. What was new, however, during the Enlightenment, was the idea that these should become public treasuries. The members of the aristocracy of Europe were beginning to allow the general public to visit their collections in the eighteenth century; revolutions merely speeded up the process. The English Civil War, however, had come a century before such ideas had taken hold, and Charles I's extraordinary art collection was simply soldBritain had to create its own National Gallery, from scratch, in 1824. The Hermitage, though still a royal palace, was first opened to the public in 1852, many decades before the Russian Revolution; its collections had been formed as part of Catherine II the Great's (ruled 17621796) strategy to bring education to Russia. The Bolsheviks boosted public collections by giving them religious treasures after religious worship had been outlawed. Many icons are now being returned as the churches reopen following the collapse of the communist regime.

Increasing access to culture dovetailed neatly with the Enlightenment's drive for knowledge. This was the great age of the formation of museums. Its high point, arguably, came in 1846 when James Smithson, a self-effacing English businessman, gave the American government the then celestial sum of half a million dollars to found a museum for "the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." The Smithsonian Institution is now the greatest museum organization in the world, with its many galleries, most of which are ranged along the Mall in Washington, D.C., devoted to interests ranging from art to aerospace and from natural history to ethnography.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the establishment of a museum became not just a response to educational need, but a matter of civic pride. This heady mix of political objectives accounts for the worldwide proliferation of museums at that time, from the Australian Museum in Sydney (opened 1828) to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (1858) to the Museum of the History of China in Beijing (1915), and hundreds of thousands of smaller museums in towns and villages in between.

Museums had another advantage: they attracted tourists. Just as the churches of medieval Europe had competed with each other for relics, so museums sought out the best collectionsfor tourists, like pilgrims, bring income. Many museums in the late twentieth century were established as part of an economic strategy. Glasgow in Scotland was the first postindustrial city to rebuild itself on the back of an art gallery, the Burrell Collection, which opened in 1983. Gradually museum buildings, such as cathedrals, became beacons of attraction in themselves, which led to the extraordinary flowering of museum architecture in the late twentieth century. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, designed by Frank O. Gehry and opened in 1997, is world-famous for its titanium-clad curves, though few could describe its collectionbut then it is not really a museum so much as a temporary exhibition hall, exhibiting works on loan from its parent museum in New York.

Agencies of Influence

It wasn't long before people began to realize that museums could be used to influence people. The South Kensington Museum in London was created in 1857 specifically to encourage better industrial design in Britain. It was radical in that it combined engineering with art, and valued objects from the past purely for their capacity to inspire the present. It is difficult to quantify how effective it wasWilliam Morris's famous wallpaper designs were directly influenced by its collectionsbut the museum gradually lost its motivation and in 1893 was split into the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, thus creating new categories of museums for science and engineering and the decorative arts.

However, the proactive educational spirit sown by the South Kensington Museum became hugely influential. The push-button displays in the Science Museum were the direct inspiration for the Exploratorium in San Francisco, established in 1969 by Frank Oppenheimer, to help people understand new developments in science. The Exploratorium is not really a museum at allit doesn't have collectionsyet its approach has spawned science centers in almost every major conurbation.

The most radical recent developments in museums have sprung from the desire to educate, rather than to collect. Michael Spock put the old toys in the Boston Children's Museum into storage because he realized his young visitors weren't interested in them. He created a new type of museum in which children could explore the adult world through interactive displays. His methods, particularly his audience participatory programs, have been hugely influential on museums, and new-style children's museums have become almost as widespread as science centers.

Since the 1960s museums have been transformed by the introduction of modern media such as video and film, audio guides, and computers. It is now possible for museums to catch the imagination of a very wide public, but only a few, as yet, have begun to put their visitors first in this way. Most stick to their old, categorical presentations and assume that their visitors will want to learn about microliths, monstrances, and moths, without asking why they might be interested in such things, let alone if they would prefer to find out about something else. When he was commissioned to create what was to become the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora in Tel Aviv in 1968, Jeshajahu Weinberg, a former theater director, realized that it would not be possible to tell this story using original artifacts, because virtually none existed. He therefore created a display that used no original material at all, only reproductions. But, since it has no collections, it cannot really be categorized as a museum at all.

Weinberg's greatest museum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. (opened 1993), uses all the storytelling techniques he developed in Israel together with real exhibits to mesmerizing effect, and attracts two million visitors per year. One reason for the recent proliferation of Holocaust museums (there are twelve in the United States alone in the early 2000s) is that its last living witnesses are being lost. One of the most important roles of museums in the future may be to preserve the evidence of past events, such as the Holocaust, of which it is imperative that they are not forgotten.

Future Challenges

A central issue facing museums in the early twenty-first century is to find ways to use their collections as a means of entertaining and educating a wide public, while developing their role as a resource for research. The felicitous atmosphere of the Enlightenment, when research and public interest coincided, has passed. Museum collections no longer represent, as they did then, the horizon of human understanding. The frontiers of science extend beyond the visible world collectable by museums, and it adds little to the sum of knowledge for museums to go on building up their collections, as most continue to do, according to categories laid down two centuries ago. But objects will still need to be preserved for future study and to make past experiences vividly meaningful to subsequent generations. Museums tend to go on doing what they have always doneadding another Carracci, crustacean, or carand yet there is no museum about the history of communism (apart from a few remaining Soviet propaganda museums, which only tell one side of the story), or of marketing. Both are manifestations of ideas and practices that have vastly shaped the lives of people living in the early 2000s, and both have vivid material pasts, ideal for museum display. The challenge for museums is to decide what is important for them to collect in the presentbecause it is on these collections that their future will be built.

See also Arts ; City, The: The City as a Cultural Center ; Cultural History ; Encyclopedism ; Enlightenment ; Visual Order to Organizing Collections .


Asma, Stephen T. Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Coombes, Annie E. Reinventing Africa: Museums, Material Culture, and Popular Imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press, 1994.

Dubin, Steven C. Displays of Power: Controversy in the American Museum from the Enola Gay to Sensation! New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Glaser, Jane R., and Artemis A. Zenetou, eds. Gender Perspectives: Essays on Women in Museums. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.

Holo, Selma. Beyond the Prado: Museums and Identity in Democratic Spain. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999.

Holst, Niels von. Creators, Collectors, and Connoisseurs: The Anatomy of Public Taste from Antiquity to the Present Day. London: Thames and Hudson, 1967. Deals only with art collections.

Hudson, Kenneth. Museums of Influence. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Malraux, André. Musée imaginaire. Paris: Gallimard, 1965. Translated as Museum Without Walls by Stuart Gilbert and Francis Price. London: Secker and Warburg, 1967.

McClellan, Andrew. Inventing the Louvre: Art, Politics, and the Origin of the Modern Museum in Eighteenth-Century Paris. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

McLoughlin, Moira. Museums and the Interpretation of Native Canadians: Negotiating the Borders of Culture. New York: Garland, 1999.

Norman, Geraldine. The Hermitage: The Biography of a Great Museum. London: Pimlico, 1999.

Schneider, Andrea Kupfer. Creating the Musée d'Orsay: The Politics of Culture in France. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.

Spalding, Julian. The Poetic Museum: Reviving Historic Collections. Munich: Prestel, 2002.

Staniszewski, Mary Anne. The Power of Display: A History of Exhibition Installation at the Museum of Modern Art. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998.

Weil, Stephen E. A Cabinet of Curiosities: Inquiries into Museums and their Prospects. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.

Wilson, David M. The British Museum: A History. London: British Museum Press, 2002.

Julian Spalding


views updated May 29 2018


The word "museum," from the ancient Greek mouseion, originally referred to any location sacred to the Muses (Mousa). The Muses, who were the ancient Greek goddesses of the arts, were honored and revered by poets, playwrights, and artists. Any place inhabited by the Muses was likewise considered sacred and a source of divine inspiration. The playwright Euripides, for example, in the fifth century B. C. E., described mouseia as places of beauty and nature where birds sang and poets were inspired.

In the fourth century B. C. E., a formal sanctuary dedicated to the Muses was established just below Mount Helicon, a mountain in central Greece. According to legend, the Muses first appeared to the poet Hesiod (ca. 700 B. C. E.) on this very hillside, telling him to sing of the gods as he tended his father's sheep. The sanctuary featured an open-air amphitheater, where statues and other works of art were displayed, and supposedly held a manuscript copy of the collected works of Hesiod. This was, perhaps, the first place ever called a "museum."

The History of Museums

Over the centuries, the notion of a museum evolved from any place sacred to the Muses to the multifaceted museums of today. In the modern world, a museum is defined as any institution that maintains a collection of objects to be preserved, studied, and displayed for educational or aesthetic purposes. This is very different from the original definition of a mouseion.

The notion of collecting objects is deeply rooted in human history. Collecting is an activity with great symbolic significance. Collections have been used to honor the dead; Neolithic burial sites often show the dead interred with objects of personal or religious significance. Collections of sacred objects honor the gods; sacrificial offerings accumulate at altars and in temples. Collections of plunder signify conquest and domination; plundered artifacts convey a sense of power over the vanquished. Collections of all types can express admiration or fascination with whatever the objects represent; sports fans, for example, collect memorabilia from their favorite teams or players. However, the mere act of collecting things does not make the resulting collection a museum.

Museums in Antiquity

In the classical world of Greece and Rome, sacred objects were often collected and placed in temples or sanctuaries as offerings to the gods. The Parthenon in Athens, for example, contained many valuable objects ranging from gold and silver artifacts to inlaid statues and carved marble reliefs. These works of art, although now scattered in museums around the world, were originally intended as gifts to the gods; they belonged to the divinity to whom they were offered. The treasuries of classical temples, usually filled with a clutter of precious objects, were generally not open to the public, and the objects contained therein were displayed only on rare occasions. Thus, these temples could not be considered museums.

Collections of objects were not restricted to temples and other religious sites in the ancient world. Works of art were also collected by individuals and displayed in public spaces. Individual aristocrats in ancient Rome would fill their urban homes and country villas with exquisite art. Great public arenas in ancient Greece, such as those at Delphi or Olympia, would feature works of art dedicated in commemoration of great accomplishments. Likewise, the Forum in Rome was filled with exquisite statues representing important historic figures. Although the works of art displayed in these settings would all be considered museum artifacts today, none of the original locations would have been referred to as museums.

There were a few locations in the classical world that could possibly have been considered museums. For example, famous schools in Athens, such as the Lyceum or the Academy, maintained collections of objects that were used for educational purposes. Philosophical classes in Athens were often based on empirical observations of natural objects. The philosopher Aristotle, tutor to Alexander the Great, encouraged his students to collect specimens from the natural world for the purposes of examination. During his conquest of Persia, Alexander had exotic specimens captured and sent home to Aristotle for further study.

The Museum at Alexandria

It was not until the early third century B. C. E. when an institution emerged that most closely resembled the modern notion of a museum. This occurred with the creation of the Museum at Alexandria in Egypt, one of the most famous institutions in the ancient world. Established in 290 B. C. E. by Ptolemy I, the Museum was a place devoted to learning and intellectual reflection, where scholars gathered to study collections of objects. Designed by Demetrius of Phaleron, a former student of Aristotle, the institution was destined to become the center for intellectual learning in the classical world.

Funded by the Egyptian Ptolemaic monarchy, the Museum featured extensive collections of objects, an observatory, lecture halls, gardens, living quarters, and a library. The Library, perhaps the most famous branch of the Museum, grew rapidly over the centuries and at its height contained almost half a million volumes. For almost six centuries, scholars from around the world would travel to Egypt to study the resources of the Museum and contribute the fruits of their own knowledge to the Museum's holdings.

The scholars who worked at the Museum formed the world's first academic community. They were governed by a priest and supported by the state. Like scholars in an early university, they lived, worked, and studied within the institution. Their primary activity was research, and they gave few lectures.

Museums in the Middle Ages

The Museum at Alexandria was destroyed during civil warfare around 270 C. E. After this, the collecting of artifacts once again became a private affair. Rich individuals would collect great works of art according to their interests and tastes for their own personal enjoyment. Communities of scholars, such as monks in monasteries, would collect great works of literature or artistic effort for posterity, hiding them from the public in order to protect them for the future. The first university museum, the Ashmolean, was founded in 1683 at Oxford University in England. However, even universities would restrict access to their collections by the general public.

Over the centuries, displaying works of fine art grew into an art itself for individual collectors. These collectors would exhibit their collections in elaborate displays that ranged in size from vast galleries to tiny cabinets. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a specialized type of collecting emerged and grew in popularity. Referred to as wunderkammer, these were cabinets of curiosities. The owners of these cabinets took great pride in gathering together objects that were rarely seen and hard to acquire. They particularly prized rare specimens of natural history, such as butterflies or fossils. Yet these collections existed almost exclusively for the enjoyment of the collectors, their friends, and their families; the collections were rarely opened to the public.

Early Modern Museums

The first true public museums were created as royal collections of art and were gradually made accessible for the public to enjoy. In Paris, for example, galleries of art initially housed in royal palaces and collected by generations of French kings were made available to select members of the public in the 1750s. However, it was not until 1793, during the French Revolution, that these galleries were opened to the public as the Louvre Museum.

The British Museum was founded in 1753 as perhaps the first public museum. In contrast to earlier museums that focused primarily on art, the British Museum emphasized both natural history and cultural heritage materials. However, its resemblance to the modern version of the museum was slight. Prospective visitors had to apply for admission in writing and in advance, and it could take two weeks to receive permission to enter the facility. Groups of visitors were limited to fifteen people or less and visits had to be restricted to two hours in length. Moreover, visitors had to stay together on their tour, and only two such tours were allowed each day.

The idea that museums should be institutions open to the general public gained in momentum with the growing notion that the nation-state could display collections of prestigious works of art for its own glorification. Thus, during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, countries around the world began to open national museums. Well-known examples include the Vatican Museum in Rome, the Royal Danish Museum in Copenhagen, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. These institutions paved the way for the modern museum.

The Modern Museum

Today, many different types of institutions can be called museums. These include zoos, planetariums, aquariums, art galleries, nature centers, historical monuments, botanical gardens, science and technology centers, and so on. The wide range of institutions that consider themselves museums means that it can prove very difficult to classify museums neatly into distinct categories. Museums are thus often classified in many different ways and using many different methods. They can be grouped by the nature of the objects they collect, by the audience they serve, by their intended purpose, by their size, by their source of funding, and so on.

Types of Museums

The most popular method of classifying museums is by the nature of their collections. This can be difficult to determine as collections in various museums often overlap. Some museums have very specialized collections while some have very general ones; most museums fall somewhere in between. Many museums include collections of more than one type. However, despite unavoidable overlaps between categories, this method of classifying museums has the advantage of being based on the collections themselves. This approach arranges museums into categories in a way that seems logical to most museum visitors. Moreover, it provides a way of illustrating some of the key differences in approaches different types of museums bring to their collections and intended audiences.

For the purposes of this entry, museums can be divided into four general types: (1) art museums, (2) science and technology museums, (3) natural history museums, and (4) cultural history museums.

Art museums collect and present a variety of artifacts considered to be of aesthetic value. Artifacts exhibited in art museums include paintings, sculpture, and the decorative arts. Art museums often include historical objects, traditionally drawn from classical antiquity, among their collections. However, most art museums collect artifacts based on their aesthetic merits rather than their cultural or historical importance. Thus, it is usually sufficient for artifacts in art galleries to be exhibited loosely arranged by time period or artist. When displaying artifacts of aesthetic value, the context in which the collections are displayed is less important than in other museums where artifacts might have to be displayed in an appropriate historical context to be understood. In general, art museums tend to be more focused on personal appreciation of art, with the interpretation of artifacts left up to the individual. Exhibits in art museums, therefore, are usually less didactic in nature than in other forms of museums. Modern art museums are often considered experimental; many are designed and constructed in an attempt to show the latest in modern artistic styles. The Guggenheim Museum in New York or the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris are good examples of museums of modern art that attempt to embody modern art conventions in their own construction. Other well-known art museums include the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum, the Art Institute in Chicago, the Louvre Museum in Paris, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Museums of science and technology collect objects and design exhibitions that demonstrate scientific principles, illustrate important discoveries in the history of science, or describe important technological innovations. Sometimes these objects are valuable and irreplaceable artifacts of science and technology, such as the Orville and Wilbur Wright's airplane, Galileo's telescope, or Charles Babbage's analytical engine. Often, however, the emphasis in the exhibit is placed not on the artifacts themselves but on the process the artifacts illustrate. In these situations, the museum will collect objects that can be used to demonstrate lessons, processes, or scientific principles to their visitors. For this reason, exhibits in science museums are typically very hands-on, featuring demonstrations and interactive displays with an emphasis on education. Well-known examples of museums of science and technology include the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Natural history museums preserve and present specimens collected from the world of nature. Objects collected by natural history museums include birds, mammals, insects, plants, fossils, rocks, and reptiles. Exhibits within these museums cover such academic fields as botany, geology, paleontology, and zoology. Natural history collections were found among the earliest types of museums, such as the British Museum in London. Natural history was a popular hobby for individuals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and large collections of interesting specimens were often donated to growing national museums of natural history. From an educational standpoint, museums of natural history have proven useful for scholars and students of all ages and from all disciplines. By providing collections of animals, plants, and minerals, neatly organized and arranged by type or classification, such museums provide an invaluable service to individuals who may not otherwise have access to rare specimens. Well-known examples of museums of natural history include the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, the Natural History Museum in London, the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the Field Museum in Chicago, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Cultural history museums cover a variety of topics, cultures, and time periods. They can be found at many different levels in society. They range from museums of local history that illustrate the history of a city or county, to national museums that exhibit the history of an entire country, to museums of world history that display artifacts collected from all cultures throughout history and around the globe. In addition, museums of history often focus on different types of collections. Cultural history museums with a focus on archaeology, for example, gather artifacts from antiquity, such as Greece, Rome, Egypt, or Mesoamerica, to almost present day, such as colonial America. Anthropological or ethnographic museums typically present artifacts arranged by culture and attempt to provide the visitor with a new way of looking at different world cultures. History museums of a general nature often present their collections chronologically, allowing their visitors to follow the evolution of objects in their collections through time. Usually, cultural history museums display artifacts that were once of utilitarian value, not just aesthetically pleasing. Such museums make an effort to situate their artifacts in a historical context; many often use models or simulated environments to provide an appropriate setting for their artifacts. These museums are essentially educational in their exhibit design philosophy; they usually offer more interpretation and explanation than other types of museums. Well-known examples of cultural history museums include the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the British Museum in London.

Finally, there are also specialty museums of various miscellaneous types that do not fit neatly into the above classification scheme. These include museums that feature collections of unusual artifacts of a particular type, like baseball cards or Superman memorabilia; museums that cater to a specialized audience, such as children's museums; or museums dedicated to a specialized time period or geographic area, such as a museum of a small town or community.

The Purpose of Museums

All museums collect, preserve, and interpret objects. When working with their collections, modern museum professionals aim to accomplish three goals of equal importance: (1) to preserve the artifacts entrusted to their care; (2) to research and study their collections; and (3) to educate the public about the value, educational or aesthetic, of their holdings. All museums face the same problems in achieving these goals.

A fundamental aspect of collecting is the desire to preserve that which one collects. From the moment an artifact enters a museum's collection, museum professionals must take every precaution to ensure that no further damage or deterioration occurs to the artifact. This is called preventative conservation. Conservation activities form an important part of the artifact lifecycle in the museum. Although many visitors to a museum believe that the only responsibility the museum has is to care for the artifacts on exhibit, usually only 5 percent to 10 percent of a museum's entire collection is displayed to the public at any one time. The vast majority of a museum's collection remains locked away in storage facilities. It is crucial that proper care be taken of those artifacts in storage. This includes careful monitoring of environmental conditions, the storage of artifacts in nonreactive, nonharmful containers, and occasional conservation activities to ensure that artifacts remain undamaged over the years. If museum professionals do not take steps to preserve their collections, then their artifacts will eventually deteriorate beyond repair. Therefore, preservation is an essential goal of the modern museum professional.

For thousands of years, scholars have relied on museums to provide collections of objects worthy of study. Likewise, it is essential that the collection of a museum be properly examined, studied, and researched by the appropriate experts. The role of the curator in the museum is to ensure that the museum's artifacts are identified, made available to experts for study, and the resulting knowledge recorded and preserved for future scholars. In this way, the museum is fulfilling its role as an academic institution that began in Alexandria more than two thousand years ago. Today, many university museums maintain research collections; these collections are usually not displayed to the public and are reserved for academic research only. Such museums pride themselves on having extensive research collections, ranging from rare books to herpetological specimens, which attract researchers from around the world to come and study at their facility. For the museum professional, research is required to create programs for both educational and scholarly purposes. Research is also necessary to learn proper methods of preserving the artifacts in the care of the museum. Some artifacts will require special conservation methods. Other artifacts, such as bones from ancient graves, may be culturally sensitive and require special handling or display. Only with appropriate research can the museum ensure that its collections are being properly handled, treated, and exhibited.

Visitors to a museum today take for granted that their experience will be an educational one, but this was not always the case. The notion that a museum should serve an educational role outside of the academic sphere is a relatively new idea, rooted in the nineteenth century. The Royal Danish Museum in Copenhagen was one of the first museums to present its collections in an instructional manner—metal artifacts, for example, were arranged to illustrate the evolution of the Copper, Bronze, and Iron Ages. Today, virtually all artifacts are displayed in a manner that emphasizes the educational experience of the visitor. Exhibits introduce important themes, label copy keeps the visitor informed of the facts as well as the museum's interpretation of the artifacts, and tour guides emphasize the most important lessons to be learned from any given display. Museums today have different means of reaching their audiences. Most museums maintain education departments that train docents and other volunteers, offer special education programs, or bring educational out-reach activities to the schools. Additional items, such as paper guides, booklets, or audiocassettes, allows visitors to delve into exhibit topics of interest to them in more depth without overwhelming other visitors with extraneous labels and displays. In general, museums have found that by educating the public, they increase the public's interest in the collections of the museum, benefiting both museum and museum visitor.

It is important to remember that from the moment an artifact enters a museum, it enters an artificial environment. An artifact on display or in storage in a museum will follow a life very different from its original or intended purpose. A cup that one thousand years ago was used for drinking will sit in a case, be kept for study, or be displayed to schoolchildren. No longer a utilitarian object, its utility lies in its value as an educational or research tool. Once an object becomes a museum artifact, it enters a new environment. The role of the museum professional is to facilitate this transition through preservation, research, and education.

Museum Organizations

The job of the museum professional is complicated, and many organizations exist to help museum professionals in their daily work. The American Association of Museums (AAM) was founded in 1906 to assist museums and museum professionals across the country. The AAM serves as an accreditation organization for museums, offers guidance in maintaining professional standards, and educates museum professionals through annual conferences, journals, and publications. More than sixteen thousand members, both individuals and institutions, are represented by the AAM. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) was founded in 1946 and has more than fifteen thousand members from 150 countries. ICOM is affiliated with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and provides an international forum for museum professionals to discuss global issues of museum education, responsibilities, and professionalism.

With the assistance of such organizations, the job of the museum professional has steadily evolved from an amateur to more professional status. In addition, museum studies has emerged as an approved field of study in its own right. It is now possible to obtain a master's degree in museum studies at many universities. Museum-studies programs worldwide train future museum professionals in the techniques and methods of the museum field. The establishment of museum studies as an approved academic discipline has helped museums around the world become more professional in managing their valuable resources.

Museums and Information Resources

Museums are responsible for maintaining and preserving many valuable resources, the most important of which are their collections of artifacts. These objects are vital information resources that document the worlds of art, science, nature, or history. By preserving their artifacts, museums are often preserving a direct link to the human past or to the natural world that may no longer exist outside the walls of the museum.

Equally important, however, are the data museums collect about their artifacts through research and study. Knowledge about a collection is accumulated through the efforts of curators, academic scholars, and other museum professionals. This information is then recorded in permanent form. The resulting documents form surrogate records that both describe and represent the artifacts of the museum. Surrogate records provide a valuable service by offering a source of data about artifacts that can be manipulated and accessed far more easily than the actual objects themselves. Thus, when a curator needs to know how many paintings a museum has collected from a particular artist or a scholar wants to study a certain type of ceramic vessels, these individuals can consult data contained in the surrogate records while the artifacts themselves remain safely in storage. As museums become more professional, there is an increased awareness of the need to keep artifacts safe, secure, and undisturbed. The less frequently a museum artifact needs to be handled, the longer it will remain undamaged. To this end, more museums are limiting access to their collections, and more museums are encouraging research to be conducted using surrogate records. It is essential, therefore, that the data in the records of the museum be accurate and up-to-date.

The task of managing information resources in museums has now become a science. The integration of advanced information technology into museum environments has had a serious effect on the way modern museums manage their data records. Information science professionals worldwide now study the role of information technology in managing museum information resources. This field of study is generally known as "museum informatics."

Information Management in Museums

Museums have always had a need to manage their information resources. They need to know not only what they have but also what they know about what they have. In the past, information about museum collections was maintained in paper and card files. Access to these records was usually restricted to museum employees; moreover, search capabilities in these files were usually limited to only a few key fields. For example, card files may have been sorted by donor name, by accession number, or by title of object. Assuming the cards were kept up-to-date and properly organized, accessing data by any of these fields was usually straightforward. However, locating a set of records sorted by culture or material type would have been a difficult if not impossible task for even the most skilled and knowledgeable museum employee.

Modern information systems in museums offer museum professionals many new methods of organizing and accessing data. Such systems work in conjunction with existing paper records to augment the information-management capabilities of the museum. Electronic database systems allow museum employees to search and sort their computer records by almost any field. In addition, museum professionals are now able to store far more data about their artifacts on the computer than ever before possible on accession cards or ledger files. Also, by maintaining artifact data in electronic format, modern museums now have the capability to share data about their collections with other institutions in ways never before possible. Organizations are currently working to devise standards that will allow museums around the world to collaborate in their efforts to identify and research their collections. By sharing artifact records from one organization to another, museums may be able to advance significantly the state of knowledge in their fields.

However, as museums work to increase access to their information resources, some problems have been exacerbated; especially troublesome are those that concern copyright and intellectual or cultural property. The question of ownership of artifacts has traditionally been a difficult one for museum professionals. Whether or not the British Museum should return the Parthenon Marbles (also known as the Elgin Marbles) to Greece, for example, has been hotly debated since Lord Elgin removed these massive carvings from Athens in the late-eighteenth century. Laws such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) exist to ensure that the rights of the original owners of museum artifacts are protected. As museums increase their online presence, many of these issues are now returning to the forefront of intellectual debate. Additionally, many museum professionals worry that by making electronic images and data about their collection available online, they are encouraging individuals to violate copyright regulations by making their own digital copies of works of art.

New Opportunities for Digital Museums

Despite these difficulties, the "wired" museum raises all sorts of new possibilities for the museum professional. Within the museum itself, interactive exhibits offer visitors new options for an in-depth exploration of exhibits. Computer displays can provide additional detailed data about each exhibit in the museum and allow visitors to interact with museum displays in ways never before possible. Electronic displays can help museums meet the accessibility needs of their visitors, providing audio, enlarged text, and so on, as needed. Note that electronic systems augment the artifacts of a museum, enhancing the experience of visiting a museum but never completely replacing the original collections.

Online, virtual museums offer digital visitors everything from information about the museum's location and hours of operation to virtual tours of the museum's galleries and collections. Many museums have information records about their artifacts linked to their websites in a manner that allows the general public to retrieve digital images and detailed textual descriptions of any artifact in the collection of the museum. Many museum educators create specialized educational outreach programs for schoolchildren. These programs, available online over the museum's website, are often integrated with school curricula and national educational standards. Finally, interactive online exhibits are able to offer virtual visitors specialized access to artifact data. For example, by gathering information about visitor interests online, museums can offer dynamic exhibits over the Internet that are specifically created for each individual patron.

The museum of the future will use technology to connect distant museums, museum professionals, and museum patrons. A scholar from New York who is examining over the Internet the rich collections of the Hermitage will be able to interact, via a three-dimensional virtual display, with a fellow researcher from Berlin who is studying the same collection. Students, teachers, scholars, and members of the general public, armed with only a computer and an Internet connection, will be able to browse the collections of every museum worldwide, including artifacts not currently on display in the museum. Individuals will have immediate access to the accumulated knowledge of a wide variety of experts in every field from every country. Virtual visitors physically located thousands of miles apart will stand next to each other in three-dimensional representations of archaeological sites so realistic as to be indistinguishable from the real thing, will handle three-dimensional virtual representations of priceless artifacts rendered with laser mapping accurate to the micrometer, and will share data and other information resources in ways never before possible.

See also:Archives, Public Records, and Records Management; Archivists; Curators; Databases, Electronic; Internet and the World Wide Web.


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Paul F. Marty


views updated May 14 2018


MUSEUMS define relationships between life, community, the nation, and the world through the interpretation of objects, experience, and the environment. These institutions range from community-based museums, such as the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, and Chinatown History Museum and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York, to house museums like Mount Vernon and Monticello. Among other developments are historic sites, reconstructed towns and villages such as the Boston African American National Historic Site and Lowell National Historic Park in Massachusetts; the Henry Ford Museum and Green-field Village, Michigan; and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. There are also national museums of art and science that include the National Museums of the Smithsonian Institution, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History, Field Museum of Chicago, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among thousands of others.

The sheer variety of museums evinces the need to address different constituencies and to engage different interpretations of historic events that recover the multiplicity of cultures that constitute American identity. In the United States, the provision of social and civic spaces by government, private, and nonprofit organizations points to the complex nature of the relationship between knowledge and identity that has developed in the last fifty years. A 1997 study of state museum organizations revealed an estimated 16,000 museums in operation. Because several hundred new institutions appear each year, this estimate may have risen to over 20,000. According to a 1999 census report, museums average 865 million visits per year, or 2.3 million visits a day, a statistic suggestive of their importance in American life.

Emergence of Museums in America

While thousands of museums exist in contemporary rural and urban landscapes, their precedents in the United States extend to the late eighteenth century. The history of this earlier museum era begins after the 1770s and offers a different starting point for the founding of museums in the United States. Museums and cabinets existed nearly a century before the "great age" of museum building from 1870 to 1920, which resulted in the creation of large beaux-arts structures with classically inspired exteriors that housed collections of art and natural history. Instead of exhibiting the grand collections belonging to an aristocracy or monarchy, the museum in America has much humbler beginnings. In 1773, the Charleston Library Society founded a private museum that featured a collection of artifacts, birds, and books available to its members, until it was destroyed in wartime three years later. Once the Revolutionary War (1775–1783) was over, attention was turned toward the development of useful knowledge, and collections were one way of displaying the natural materials that could support the growth of industry and promote a sense of unity. Access to such early collections, also known as "cabinets," was possible through membership in philosophical societies or through courses taken in college. For some, awareness of a need to establish a sense of collective identity prompted them to open their collections to a paying public.

In 1780s Philadelphia, Dr. Abraham Chovet, Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere, and Charles Willson Peale each formed their own semiprivate cabinets accessible to a public made of the professional class for an admission fee. Such businesses offered their owners opportunities for pursuing nontraditional employment as an entrepreneur. In running them, they honed their skills in dealing with the public, and by experiment and experience, developed their respective displays. A public largely composed of merchants, government bureaucrats, and military officers paid admission fees equal to a laborer's daily wage. Sometimes admission fees were deliberately kept high, which effectively worked as a filter mechanism that limited the visitors to a specific group. Dr. Abraham Chovet maintained a cabinet of anatomical waxworks as a means of training physicians about the body at a time when actual subjects were in short supply. High admission fees ensured that students of physick (medicine) remained its main audience.

General museums of natural history and art charged admission fees of a half or quarter of a dollar to see examples of natural history, portraiture, waxworks, and trade goods. In port cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, or New Haven, such extensive collections were entirely housed under a single roof. In 1784, Swiss expatriate Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere opened his cabinet for admission to the public in his Arch Street, Philadelphia, home, which he advertised in newspapers and broadsides as "The American Musaeum." For half of a dollar at an appointed time, he offered audiences tours of books, prints, archival collections, and the artifacts and antiquities of indigenous peoples. Everything was auctioned off after his death in 1785. Artist and saddle maker Charles Willson Peale was familiar with Du Simitiere's failed effort. He began his museum by building extensions onto his home, first building a portrait gallery to display his work to prospective clients, and then adding rooms to accommodate his collections of natural history. He maintained his practice of portraiture, thereby ensuring an income

to support his large family, and he developed a style for the portraits of national heroes he displayed above cases of specimens. Peale continued to expand his home to house a growing collection. In 1794 he was able to rent rooms in the American Philosophical Society building and later, in 1802, the museum was moved to the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall), where it remained until 1829. Peale's Museum developed differently than museums in New York and Boston that catered more to popular entertainment. In part this was due to Peale's duties as curator of the American Philosophical Society and the desire of leaders to maintain Philadelphia's prominence as a cultural capital of the United States. Professors of natural philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania used the museum collections in courses on natural history, and Peale also delivered a series of lectures on natural history at the University. By the 1810s, the end of this mutual arrangement arrived. The University built its own museum and collections, which marked the growing divide between higher education, the rise of specialized societies, and popular efforts to educate citizens about natural history. Peale built a lecture room in his museum, used for scientific demonstrations and lectures on natural history. Other universities and colleges developed their own museums, where professors employed teaching collections in courses on anatomy and natural philosophy. This presaged the development of entertainment rather than science as a means of attracting customers to the museum.

When New York became the capital of the United States in 1790, the Tammany Society founded its own museum, dedicated to the collection of American Indian artifacts. First located in a rented room in City Hall, the museum quickly outgrew its initial home and was moved to the Old Exchange Building. In 1795, unable to maintain the museum, the Society transferred ownership to the museum keeper, Gardiner Baker. Baker's Tammany or American Museum (1795–1798) was dedicated to waxworks displays, paintings and collections of American Indian artifacts, automata, coins, fossils, insects, mounted animals, and a menage of live animals. Such a program of selected materials was followed by other museums. Aside from the entertainment, displays fell into two large categories—natural or artificial curiosities—the second designating objects that were made by people.

When Baker died in 1798, the museum collections were auctioned off and became part of Edward Savage's Museum, which was, in turn, sold to John Scudder for his American Museum in the 1820s, and by the 1840s, these collections were incorporated into Barnum's American Museum. In Boston, Daniel Bowen established his Columbian Museum (1795–1803), which featured extensive waxworks displays, paintings, and collections of animals, like those of Baker's and Peale's Museums. Bowen exited the museum business after three disastrous fires and worked with his nephew, the engraver Abel Bowen.

In this formative period between 1785 and 1820, museums gained additional support. City and state government provided support through the charge of a nominal fee ("one peppercorn" or minimal rent) for the lease of an available vacant building. For example, Scudder's American Museum began by renting the old New York Almshouse in City Hall Park in 1810. In 1816, Peale solicited the help of Philadelphia's City Corporation, newly owner of the State House, to establish a reasonable rent for his museum. Often, the interior of an older building was completely modified to hold display cases for arrangements of mounted specimens of the animal kingdom. Less frequently, a museum edifice was designed and built to order, as was the short-lived Philadelphia Museum (1829), Bowen's Columbian Museum in Boston (1803), and Peale's Museum in Baltimore (1814–1829), the latter operated by Peale's sons as a private business for profit. Fiercely competitive and dependent on profits from admission fees, museums were difficult to maintain given the uncertainty of an economy that suffered periodic depressions. Support from the federal government was negligible. Not until the formation of the National Park Service in the 1920s and the establishment of the Smithsonian did the U.S. government provide complete support for a public museum.

Changes in Collecting

Collecting became institutionalized between 1819 and 1864, and institutions dealing with the past—museums, historical societies, and collections—began to systematically develop their record keeping of acquisitions, inventories, and displays. Different fields of study branched from the humanities and the sciences, and institutions became more specific in their focus. Popular interest in the natural sciences spurred a broad range of activities and a market for lectures, textbooks, and journals channeled through the lyceum circuit by the 1840s. A decade later, many secondary schools and colleges featured their own collection of specimens, created by teachers and students. The growth of cities saw an increase in the number of museums in other national regions.

In general, two main types of museum emerged after midcentury—those devoted to the natural sciences, and those devoted to the arts. Not included in the histories of these large institutions is the "dime museum," which ranged from curio halls to storefronts that exhibited living anomalies, magic shows, plays, waxworks, or menageries. The predecessor of the dime museum was P. T. Barnum's American Museum (1841–1865) in downtown New York. Barnum's Museum became a national attraction that offered visitors displays of natural and scientific specimens along with live animal shows, plays, waxworks, sideshows, and plays in one location, for a quarter of a dollar. Together with Moses Kimball, proprietor of the Boston Museum, Barnum purchased the collections of museums at auction, recycling the contents of previous institutions unable to survive periodic depressions. Although Barnum left the museum business after three fires destroyed his collections in New York, the success of his institution inspired other museum entrepreneurs to follow his lead.

In the Midwest, museums were established near the waterfront in Cincinnati and St. Louis in the early 1800s. William Clark, Governor and Secretary of Indian Affairs at St. Louis, built an Indian council chamber and museum in 1816, filled with portraits by George Catlin and artifacts of various Native American peoples. Until his death in 1838, Clark's museum served as an introduction for visitors to the West and its resources. Part of Clark's collections was incorporated into Albert Koch's St. Louis Museum and dispersed after 1841, when Koch departed for Europe. Cincinnati's Western Museum (1820–1867) began as a scientific institution and was doing poorly by 1823; its new owner, Joseph Dorfeuille, transformed the museum into a successful popular entertainment. The Western Museum's most successful draw was the "Infernal Regions," a display that featured waxworks and special effects designed by the artist Hiram Powers. Low admission fees, central locations, and a wide variety of entertainment under one roof offered another option for spending leisure time in expanding industrial centers.

The display of industrial achievement had a profound influence on exhibition culture in the antebellum period. In 1853, the first U.S. World's Fair, the New York Crystal Palace, opened, followed by the Sanitary Fairs of the Civil War era. Fairs highlighted national achievement, rather than focusing on an individual artist, through participation in these venues. These events exposed larger segments of the population to the arts of painting and sculpture in addition to displays of manufacturing and industrial power. The rise of exhibitions and world's fairs offered opportunities for many to purchase reproductions, if not the original works on display. Expositions offered opportunities for public education. As instruments of social control, fairs and museums reiterated the racial and cultural hierarchy of white dominance. Access to museums by people of color was often restricted, and even specified in admission policy as early as 1820 at Scudder's American Museum. Beginning with the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, this restriction was expressed through the organization of living ethnological displays. Indigenous groups from the Philippines and the United States were housed in reservations surrounded by fences and guards, while visitors moved around the areas to watch performances of everyday life. Between 1876 and 1939, fairs took place in St. Louis, Omaha, Cleveland, New Orleans, Dallas, and Seattle. World's fairs and expositions had a close relationship to museums, like that between the Smithsonian and the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Materials on display became part of museum collections; elements of exposition displays, such as the period room, were developments incorporated into museums. Frequently, former fair buildings became homes for new museums.

Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., developed into important centers for the arts and the natural sciences. The architecture of larger institutions featured an imposing exterior executed in a classical or gothic style that symbolized power on a federal level. In New York, the American Museum of Natural History opened in 1869, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened in 1870. The Castle, the Smithsonian Institution's original red brick gothic building, was visible for a distance from its bare surroundings in Washington, D.C. Its rapidly increasing collections of specimens, some of which came from the 1876 Exposition, were contained in a series of glass cases that lined the walls of the Castle's Great Hall. By the 1880s, the Smithsonian comprised the U.S. National Museum and the Arts and Industries Building. Museums of natural history featured large collections arranged according to the latest scientific taxonomy, supported research, and expeditions for fossils and living specimens. Interest in prehistoric life-forms increased, and the skeletons of large dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and giant sloths remained immensely popular with the public for the next seventy-five years.

Large science museums were not simply sites for educating students about biology, geology, or chemistry, but illustrated the place of America in the larger world, through the featured display of large collections of specimens culled from around the globe by official exploring expeditions sponsored by the United States government. Smaller regional organizations also formed museums, and their members gave courses in ornithology, geology, mineralogy, or conchology to a local public, as did the Worcester Natural History Society in Massachusetts. Such organizations frequently lacked the staff and collection resources of larger urban institutions, but offered access to natural history through shelves of natural specimens or guided field trips to the surrounding area.

Curators of natural history museums were also involved in another collection activity as anthropology became a distinct discipline, and interest in acquiring the material culture and remains of various indigenous peoples intensified. By the end of the nineteenth century, interest in anthropology led to the development of ethno-graphic exhibit techniques, some influenced by the villages of World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Much of this material was donated to public museums. Although the displays of objects or dioramas of native life received scientific treatment, they also contained a moral dimension. Underpinning approaches to the study of indigenous cultures was a sense of Americans as inheritors of civilization, and the ongoing population decline of many American Indian peoples precipitated interest in the development of representative collections. Little changed until the 1990s, when Native and non-Native curators and scholars began to reevaluate the interpretation and presentation of Native American peoples in museums.

Over the course of the twentieth century, cities increased in physical size, population, and wealth. Museums and related institutions developed and were shaped by the public response to education as entertainment. Gradually, more funds, more services, and more equipment was dedicated to museums and their programs as municipal and state governments realized how tourism contributed to their regions. Higher education and training programs developed the study of art and cultural production, which in turn, shaped the acquisition and display of antiquities, paintings, and sculpture in museums.

Wealthy industrialists contributed to their own collections, which ultimately became a privately or publicly run museum. For two industrialists, objects were seen as the means of conveying history. Henry Ford believed that objects told the story of American history more accurately than texts, and was the largest buyer of Americana in the country, collecting objects and entire buildings, which he moved to Dearborn, Michigan, to create Greenfield Village. Henry Mercer held similar ideas to Ford concerning objects, and sought to create an encyclopedic collection of every implement used by European Americans before 1820. Mercer's museum, built in 1916 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, focused on tools, and his collection of 25,000 artifacts is housed in a seven-story building of his own design in reinforced concrete. Industrialists also worked to found large institutions that later housed numerous private collections displayed for the benefit of public audiences. This specialization began in the early twentieth century, with the emergence of institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art.

In the 1930s, museum management shifted; the federal government increasingly became a source of support for museums through grants, and businesses supported and programmed science museums. In the post–World War II era, collectors and philanthropists turned their attention to founding institutions, which focused on national culture, business, and industry. Museums were not just one structure, but could constitute a number of buildings. A particular and specific image of the past was evoked by clustering old buildings in danger of demolition on a new site, renamed and declared an authentic link to the past. Examples of this include Greenfield Village, Old Sturbridge Village, and Colonial Williamsburg. But like many institutions of that time, displays offered a segregated history geared for white audiences. Audiences at these sites are introduced to another reading of the past, visible in a comparison of programming with that a half century earlier. For example, the William Paca House in Annapolis, Maryland, and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, Virginia, make visible the relationship of slavery to the structure and history of the site, restoring visibility to people fundamental to the economy in the Colonial period and in the early Republic. Sites run by the National Park Service have also under-gone similar shifts in interpretation, which changes the perception and understanding of history for the public. There remains much to be done. Museums are responsive rather than static sites of engagement.

In the early twenty-first century, the history of museums and collection practices are studied in terms of their larger overlapping historical, cultural, and economic contexts. No longer anchored to a national ideal, the architecture of new museums instead attracts tourists, workers, and students and invites connections with local institutions. Programming, outreach, and work with artists and communities have brought museums further into the realm of public attention, sparking support, controversy, or concession over the links between the present and the past. Exhibitions such as the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum or the artists exhibited in the Brooklyn Museum of Art's show Sensation make visible the social tensions that surround the display and the ways in which particular narratives are told. The thousands of museums that exist in the United States today testify to the power of material culture and the increasingly central role display maintains across the country.


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See alsoCollecting ; National Park System ; World's Fairs ; andindividual museums; fairs; and expositions


views updated May 21 2018


Most of the major museums in the United States were founded at the end of the nineteenth century. The Smithsonian Institution (1846), the American Museum of Natural History (1869), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1870), Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (1870), the Chicago Art Institute (1879), and the Field Museum (1893) fostered original research, the results of which were more available to the public than they would have been at universities. The growth and popularity of American museums was spurred by a complex combination of sociopolitical forces at a time when rapid industrialization was transforming the American pastoral landscape into a series of major urban centers. Providing access to knowledge was the primary purpose of these institutions; the acquisition of new materials was essential for the advancement of that knowledge; and the appeal of novelty was the key to attracting the public to that knowledge housed within the museum walls.


American museums, as "public repositories of culture" (Steffensen-Bruce, p. 46), are connected to the City Beautiful movement and also to modern notions about the function of art and knowledge in the civic life of urban dwellers. The City Beautiful movement stemmed from the belief that a beautiful landscape would inspire a city's inhabitants to moral and civic virtue. A beautiful city would eliminate social ills, bring American cities up to the level of European ones, and attract economic investment from the wealthy classes. The museum, then, and especially the art museum, was seen as an antidote to urban moral and social decay. The belief was that the art museum, as a repository of beautiful objects to be contemplated, would bring a visitor nearer to God. These ideas were developed and institutionalized by a powerful social elite: "As an institution, [the art museum] embodied the kind of high cultural aspirations that the urban cultural elite sought to incorporate in their vision of the twentieth century American city" (Steffensen-Bruce, p. 104). Therefore, museums were founded with the goal of making knowledge accessible to as many citizens as possible for the advancement of moral values and spiritual improvement. Some would see this as a contradictory function—museums were both an "elite temple of the arts, and . . . a utilitarian instrument for democratic education"—since after all, they became the site where "bodies, constantly under surveillance, were to be rendered docile" (Bennett, p. 89).

No longer were museums solely the "treasure houses" of the wealthy elite, whose collections were designed primarily to excite the visitor's wonder at the exotic in the Renaissance tradition of the Wunderkammern (cabinets of wonders). Now they were also "sites of intellectual and cultural debates" where knowledge was in the hands of a few who had the power to create meaning and order for public consumption (Conn, p. 15). By the end of the nineteenth century, the American museum served the needs of scientists by funding expeditions and acquiring collections in the name of research. They also made themselves appealing to the general public, whose knowledge was shaped in the interest of progress and democratic civic duty. Museums, therefore, wielded enormous power over the masses; shaping public knowledge meant shaping notions of beauty, of proper behavior and morality, and of cultural dominance. Abstract concepts of beauty, morality, and culture could be displayed: "Museums have always featured displays of power: great men, great wealth, or great deeds. The emphasis could be on the spoils of war, victors in the marketplace, or man as the crown of creation. In all these instances, museums have ratified claims of superiority" (Dubin, p. 3). Stephen Greenblatt argues that there are two models for the exhibition of works of art: resonance and wonder. Resonance is "the power of the displayed object to reach out beyond its formal boundaries to a larger world, to evoke in the viewer the complex, dynamic cultural forces from which it has emerged and for which it may be taken by a viewer to stand" (p. 42). Wonder is "the power of the displayed object to stop the viewer in his or her tracks, to convey an arresting sense of uniqueness, to evoke an exalted attention" (p. 42). Greenblatt argues, furthermore, that the museum "intensifies both access and exclusion."

Complementing the influence of the art museum was the growth of the natural history museum, closely tied to several academic disciplines. These museums were the only institutions at the time that had enough resources to fund large-scale expeditions (Conn, p. 53). Although the motivations behind the 1846 bequest from an heirless British citizen, James Smithson, to the United States remain a mystery, his desire that his money be used "to contribute to the increase and diffusion of knowledge" was taken seriously by the members of Congress. How best to carry out these wishes was not an easy question to answer. It was suggested several times that the money be invested in a college or university, but John Quincy Adams "reminded his colleagues that the purpose of a college was not to increase knowledge but to diffuse that which already existed" (Conn, p. 54). Thus, in the 1880s, the Smithsonian Institution was opened to the public.


The growth of urban museums throughout the nation (more than fifty art museums were built between 1890 and 1930) at the instigation of the country's governing institutions was intricately connected to a burgeoning national identity (Steffensen-Bruce, p. 199). If museums function as sites of memory where curators "artificially organize the past, creating meanings that groups then assimilate in order to cope: with modernity" (Crane, p. 6), it appears that this fairly new nation was busy trying to prevent "the natural erosion of memory" (Crane, p. 9). These sites of memory played an important role in securing the nation's claim of natural cultural superiority. A representative for the "committee of fifty," a group of New York businessmen, financiers, and artists, made a speech to Congress in 1869 claiming that the United States needed museums and that one should be established in New York. The resulting Metropolitan Museum displayed the wealth of the new city: "A history of the Metropolitan could quite justifiably be a chronicle of dazzling acquisitions, purchases, and accumulation, beginning from the earliest days and continuing through the present. The Metropolitan, more than any other museum, stands as the elegant child produced by the union between the vast fortunes of America's robber barons and the refined good taste of its social elite" (Conn, p. 193).

This same concern for building a strong city with a glorious history and a place in the life of the growing nation can be found in Chicago. The Field Museum, which opened in 1893, served to enshrine the glorious days of the Columbian Exposition and developed hand in hand with the emerging field of anthropology. The Art Institute was built to put Chicago on the map of progressive cities, to move beyond its reputation as a meatpacking town. The Chicago Art Institute, founded in 1879, was also an effort to create a Chicago of cultural import: "They were not the Robber Barons trying to show off. They were the civic leaders trying to make culture hum in Chicago, and succeeding" (Burt, p. 181).


American literature at the turn of the century had undergone a transformation parallel to that of the museum: it secured a position both as a transmitter of "high culture" and as a form of popular culture enjoyed by the middle class. The American literary tradition of romanticism gave way to realism, which pointed out social injustices, uncovered the ills caused by out-of-control industrialization, and exposed the failures of a hypocritical elite. The threat of the urban machine that dehumanized the poor, especially in growing American cities, was demystified by some of the most important writers of the time: Henry James, William Dean Howells, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, and Upton Sinclair, among others. The literature of this period also responds to issues important to the museums founded at the turn of the century: the power of wonder at the possibilities of the city and the evils of acquisitiveness in American society.

The advent of publishing, the diffusion of Charles Darwin's theories, the growth of the city, and the demand for better newspapers, magazines, and museums signaled an increased interest on the public's part for objects and ideas previously reserved for the leisure class. Vocational education, universities, and the printed word were the chief instruments by which cultural knowledge was made accessible to the masses. In New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia, the book trade prospered thanks to the efforts of the gentrified class, which sought to impose its cultural values on other segments of society: "[The gentry] cared about the traditional high arts and letters—indeed, it located in the domain of the arts the sort of founding or elemental value no longer located in religion" (Columbia Literary History, p. 471). In these terms, the spiritual value to be derived from the museum was equally present in literature. The cultural elite, the wealthy classes in the cities, believed "that concerns for such values was the base of civilization itself, it felt entitled and even obliged to try to impose this sense of value throughout its society: to disseminate culture so conceived throughout the land" (Columbia Literary History, p. 471). Many cultural tensions present at the turn of the century had to do precisely with the increase and wide diffusion of a scientific knowledge that seemed to be at odds with the traditional notions of spirituality and religion. These tensions were reflected not only in how museum collections were acquired and how displays were conceived but also in the problems realist novels addressed.

William Dean Howells (1837–1920) was the most popular exponent of realism. His work was based on the belief that writers must avoid the heroic and privilege the habitual and the natural. In doing so, they would make a faithful transcription of the world. The world that Howells described in A Modern Instance (1882), for example, depicts all the possibilities that a city could offer—wealth, status, knowledge, as well as the inevitable corruption of a competitive society. The museum in this novel appears as a refuge from the corrupting values of the city. A Modern Instance chronicles the life of newlyweds from the countryside who move to the city seeking their fortune. The museum is one of the places they regularly visit as a couple. At work, the protagonist, Bartley, is mocked for spending so much time with his wife in leisure activities. Bartley's wife sadly reminisces that it was in the museum that "they found a pleasure in the worst things which the best never afterwards gave them" (p. 337). What they find instead of fortune is a life of corruption and vice, as Bartley begins to drink, gamble, and neglect his wife, eventually divorcing her. Once Bartley enters the world of business, and his wife is condemned to domesticity where she watches every penny, their marriage deteriorates. What, then, is civilization and progress? Is this what the city can offer them? What are the spiritual values that the city espouses?

Willa Cather's (1873–1947) Song of the Lark (1932) takes a different view, seeing the city as a place of progress, a place to look to for finer things, for freedom, for the development of youthful dreams. Yet the novel's take on the museum as a place of spiritual enlightenment is similar to Howells's. Thea Krönberg, the heroine of Song of the Lark, discovers the power of her voice when she moves east to New York from a small town in the Midwest. According to Cather, the novel, written in 1915, was named "for a rather second rate French Painting in the Chicago Art Institute; a picture in which a little peasant girl, on her way to work in the fields at early morning, stops and looks up to listen to a lark. The title was meant to suggest a young girl's awakening to something beautiful" (p. xxxi). When Thea stops in Chicago, she finds a booming town unlike the small town she has left behind. She visits the Chicago Art Institute, where she sees the painting that gave the book its title and is moved by it. She briefly returns to her hometown, only to find that her family does not understand her ambition. She then moves back to New York in hopes of becoming an opera singer.

Henry James (1843–1916), by contrast, sees the city as a place whose progress is stultifying to women, and the museum is symbolic of its deadening values. In the story "Julia Bride" (1907), James portrays a woman who, with the museum as the setting for her rendezvous, seems to collect marriage engagements the way museums collect works of art. In the museum she meets with her stepfather, who has recently divorced her mother, to enlist his help with a potential suitor. He has a proposition of his own, however, asking Julia to put in a good word for him with a widow he wants to marry. He tells Julia, "She loves this place—she is awfully keen on art. Like you Julia, if you haven't changed—I remember how you did love art" (p. 773). But it is not art that interests Julia. The museum is simply the place where she entertains potential suitors such as Basil French: "She saw the great shining room, with its mockery of art and 'style' and security, all the things she was vainly after" (p. 774). In this story James critiques the acquisitive power of money displayed in the museum as Julia tries to "collect" an appropriate marriage partner but fails. James is saying in part that, just as art should not be an object of trafficking, marriage as a business in the rapidly industrializing city of New York is doomed to fail (Tintner, p. 184).

Edith Wharton (1862–1937), in The Age of Innocence (1920), similarly critiques social norms regarding the relationship between men and women, norms that were at the time slowly falling into disuse. In that book, Archer Newland is wrestling with the plausibility of having an affair with Ellen, a married woman. He and Ellen meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where they look at relics. Ellen says, "It seems cruel that after a while nothing matters any more than these little things, that used to be necessary and important to forgotten people, and now have to be guessed at under a magnifying glass and labeled: Use Unknown" (p. 312). The museum has become a private space for Ellen and Archer's rendezvous, yet this reaction to the relics foreshadows how the conventions they are defying will become useless with the passing of time. Despite their recognition of how quickly these conventions are becoming obsolete, they remain prisoners to them even many years later, when they are free to resume their relationship. Archer at least is unable to act on his feelings for Ellen.

American literature at the turn of the century critiques the intellectual apparatus that give rise to institutions such as the museum. Taken together, the literature of the time reflects many of the issues that drove the evolution of the American museum, including a desire to make knowlege, albeit a carefully controlled subset of knowledge, widely available to the general public. Yet at the same time, this literature questions the morals and archaic customs to which people were subjected.

see alsoArt and Architecture; Chicago; Libraries; New York


Primary Works

Cather, Willa. Song of the Lark. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

Howells, William Dean. A Modern Instance. In Novels, 1875–1886. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1982.

James, Henry. "Julia Bride." In American Novels and Stories of Henry James, edited by F. O. Matthiessen. New York: Knopf, 1947.

Wharton, Edith. The Age of Innocence. New York: Random House, 1920.

Secondary Works

Bennett, Tony. The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics. London: Routledge, 1995.

Burt, Nathaniel. Palaces for the People: A Social History of the American Art Museum. Boston: Little, Brown, 1977.

Columbia Literary History of the United States. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Conn, Steven. Museums and American Intellectual Life, 1876–1926. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Crane, Susan, ed. Museums and Memory. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Dubin, Stephen C. Displays of Power: Memory and Amnesia in the American Museum. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

Greenblatt, Stephen. "Resonance and Wonder." In Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, edited by Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

Griffiths, Alison. "Museums and Displays of Knowledge." Odyssey, broadcast on Chicago Public Radio, 30 August 2004.

Steffensen-Bruce, Ingrid A. Marble Palaces, Temples of Art: Art Museums, Architecture, and American Culture, 1890–1930. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1998.

Tintner, Adeline R. The Museum World of Henry James. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1986.

Liza Ann Acosta


views updated Jun 11 2018


MUSEUMS. Early modern museums were very different from the modern institutions that bear that name, so much so that some scholars suggest that museums per se did not exist before the eighteenth century. Many museologists believe that the true history of museums begins with the creation of institutions like the British Museum (1753) and the Louvre (1793). What came before the eighteenth century was a chaotic phenomenon, unrelated to the careful, scientific classification and exhibition of the natural and human-crafted world witnessed in modern art galleries and museums of natural history, civilization, and science and technology, among others. It is true that earlier collections lacked some of the basic features of modern institutions. The earliest were privately owned elite institutions not open to the general public. As a group they lacked the orderliness common in collections today, and they were frequently idiosyncratic in composition, focusing on the unusual, shocking, and even disturbing. Even the name "museum" itself was uncommon: it is more correct to refer to cabinets of curiosity (cabinet des curiosités; Kunstkammer) or wonders (Wunderkammer) well into the seventeenth century. But there are good reasons to discount the claims that such cabinets lack any place in the history of museum development.

Perhaps the most obvious reason to challenge the notion of an unbridgeable divide between the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century cabinets on one hand and the modern museum on the other is the sheer ubiquity of collecting in the early modern period. This period witnessed an unparalleled upsurge in collecting throughout Europe that continues right through the modern era. It is here that long-standing collections emerge in the Italian peninsula, the Habsburg Empire, Switzerland, France, England, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Russia, many of which are the foundations of later national museums. Though early modern cabinets were privately ownedoften by a noble, a ruler, or an institution of learningit became increasingly common for their owners to grant admission to worthy guests. These cabinets lured natural historians and philosophers of the age who were striving to understand the workings of nature, but visiting such collections also became part of the educational tour of worthy young men from all over Europe. The demand for access proved so widespread that printed catalogs detailing the contents were created for those who could not visit them in person. Their popularity was enhanced when individuals lower down the social scale began collections in imitation of their social superiors, as they did in increasing numbers during the seventeenth century. It is in the sheer numbers of these collections and the constant traffic to them that some scholars now identify the first glimmers of the modern museum-going public.

The collectors and travelers were undoubtedly experiencing something very different from the modern museum visitor, however. Early collections could easily be described as chaotic because it was often the aim of the owner to encompass universal diversity in his cabinet, and the organization schemes would seem very confusing today. Though there were collectors who specialized in a single type of item, many simply included anything they deemed appealing, intriguing, rare, exotic, or valuable. Collectors might have particular interests, and their cabinets reflect those: the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand II (15291595) had an especial interest in arms and armor and dedicated three rooms of his four-room collection to them; Peter the Great of Russia (16721725) was interested in woodcraft and archaeology, among other things, and kept an extensive collection of tools and archaeological finds from Siberia and the Caspian Sea; England's Samuel Pepys (16331703) gathered printed matter. Other collectors specialized in coins, clocks, shells, biological or anatomical materials, books, or metal objects; the possibilities were as numerous as the collectors themselves.

Though most collections did not rigorously specialize, they did not necessarily lack any organizing impulse. Recent research and examination of individual collections suggests that there were organizational principles at work, though they are not methodologies at use in museums today: Pepys, for instance, organized his immense collection of books by size, not author. One particularly prevalent goal was the desire to create coherence from chaos. The collection of the Royal Society (founded in 1660) was meant, according to its first curator, Robert Hooke (16351703), to provide the opportunity for visitors and scholars to "peruse, and turn over, and spell, and read the Book of Nature." Following Francis Bacon's (15611626) proposed program of investigation, the mysteries of nature would be uncovered and explained through the careful examination of, in particular, her "miracles." It was, therefore, incumbent upon collections to focus on the anomalies even to the exclusion of examples of the mundane and regular. Although we can see here an emphasis that is different from modern museums, the explicit agenda certainly foreshadows the type of investigation that underpins modern museum exhibits.

Perhaps the failure to recognize the underlying structure of these collections stems in part from the fact that the cabinets might be very cramped; hundreds of items from various parts of the globe would necessarily be housed in very close proximity, creating a sense of astonishing and exuberant bounty. Whatever organizing principle was employed, the collector would be sure that it accentuated plenitude since the object was to awe (even overawe) the visitor, in the process increasing the collector's reputation and celebrity. In an era when ownership of physical things and consumerism was to become a basis for honor and prestige, the cabinet of rarities was very visible proof of an individual's status.

It is a consequence of the owner's desire for notoriety and eminence that the private cabinet became increasingly more public in the seventeenth century. Though a ruler might wish to defend the exclusivity of his or her personal collection, for the rising merchant, professional, or emergent scholarly group, publicity was desirable. The more visitors, the greater the potential for renown. (Of course, the opening of collections to the general public had the advantage of providing income as well.) Despite this apparently modernizing development, it was the "un-modern" character of the early modern collections that made them so popular; people traveled to see these collections precisely because they were filled with the singular, the anomalous, and the monstrous. When a collector chose to publish a catalog, he did so to highlight the breadth andtheuniqueness of the collection; educating theaudience, while often an important motivator, was usually ancillaryto stunning and amazing it. Museologists argue that it is this reversal of priorities and the lack of "rational" categorization and specialization that make such collections primitive and inferior. And yet for the early modern collector and his audience, such collections were the means to encapsulating and understanding a fecund and ingenious nature; without such collections and the study they enabled, nature's constitution, methods, and limits would remain shrouded in mystery.

See also Bacon, Francis ; Hooke, Robert ; Marvels and Wonders ; Natural History ; Pepys, Samuel .


Boesky, Amy. "Outlandish-Fruits: Commissioning Nature for the Museum of Man." ELH 58 (1991): 305330.

Daston, Lorraine J. "The Factual SensibilityAn Essay Review on Artifact and Experiment." Isis 79 (1988): 452470.

Findlen, Paula. Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy. Berkeley, 1994.

Impey, Oliver, and Arthur MacGregor, eds. The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Europe. Oxford and New York, 1985.

Swann, Marjorie. Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England. Philadelphia, 2001.

Kathryn Brammall


views updated May 23 2018


The spirit of innovation, survival, and black creative expression has been preserved for more than a century through a range of research libraries, archives, and museums. Devoted to the black experience in the Americas and throughout the globe, these institutions document the history of struggle and achievement that are the hallmarks of African-American life and culture. Since the founding of the College Museum at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, in 1868, material culturehousehold artifacts, photographs, diaries and letters, and other memorabilia, as well as sculpture, paintings, and more contemporary media such as films and videoshas been vigorously collected and interpreted to enhance public awareness and appreciation. Today, this tradition of cultural presentation is maintained by nearly 140 institutions and galleries throughout the United States.

Hampton's College Museum (now Hampton University Museum) was truly a pioneer in this effort. Established to enrich vocational and academic instruction and to provide the broader community with otherwise unavailable cultural experiences, the museum was the brainchild of Colonel Samuel Chapman Armstrong. Today, the Hampton University Museum is noted for its important collection of African artworks, acquired by a black nineteenth-century missionary to Africa. Its holdings also include significant works of African-American and Native American artists (the latter group a reflection of the student body at the time of the museum's establishment) and a major bequest from the Harmon Foundation, which sponsored a prestigious national competition for African-American artists from 1926 until 1933.

Black cultural preservation was also advanced through the formation of literary societies and church archives. Beginning with the Bethel Literary and Historical Association (founded circa 1880) and the Negro Historical Society (1887), and, following the turn of the century, the Negro Society for Historical Research, these organizations were, in many ways, precursors to African-American museums.

Early research collections were often formed from materials lovingly accumulated by race-conscious bibliographies and lay historians. Such was the case for Howard University's Library of Negro Life in Washington, D.C., which received a 1,600-volume library from former abolitionist Lewis Tappan in 1873 and a gift of 3,000 books and historical ephemera from Reverend Jesse Moorland in 1914. The collection was augmented in 1946 by a donation of the considerable library of famed civil rights attorney Arthur Spingarn, becoming in the process the Moorland-Spingarn Library (now the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center). In New York, Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, a black Puerto Rican immigrant, responded to a teacher's comment that "the Negro has no history" by exhaustively seeking information on Africans and their descendants throughout the world. He began seriously collecting in 1910 and rapidly developed diverse holdings of manuscripts, rare books, pamphlets, sheet music, and artworks. By 1926, the magnitude of the Schomburg Collection led to its purchase by the Carnegie Foundation for the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library. Today, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is considered the foremost research facility of its kind in the world, with holdings in excess of five million items detailing the histories of blacks in Africa, the Americas, and elsewhere.

With the racial pride and interest in Africa that emerged in the 1920s, the campuses of historically black colleges and universities aimed to enhance teaching generally for the black academic community and to make works of art available to the general public. Howard University began the trend in 1928, soon followed by Fisk (Nashville), Lincoln (Pennsylvania), Tuskegee (Alabama), Morgan State (Baltimore), and Talladega (Florida) universities, among others. The galleries at these schools provided one of the few sources for exhibition and criticism for a generation of black artists and performed a major service to contemporary African-American art history by preserving a body of artwork and related historical documents that might otherwise have been dispersed, lost, or destroyed. The significant outpouring of black creative expression that resulted from the Harlem Renaissance, and, later, the large number of works commissioned through the Federal Arts Project of the Works Project Administration (WPA) during the Depression era, make up the primary holdings of many of these institutions.

Assisted by the WPA in the 1940s, organizations such as the Uptown Art Center in New York (founded in sculptor Augusta Savage's garage studio), Cleveland's Karamu House, and Chicago's South Side Community Art Center provided free art instruction for local residents and aspiring artists and in many ways performed museum-like functions. Major artists, including Charles White, Archibald Motley, Romare Bearden, and Jacob Lawrence, received early training through these centers. In a similar fashion, the Barnett-Aden Gallery in Washington, D.C., which opened in 1940, provided a focal point for artistic activity in that city by mounting numerous exhibitions of black artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in addition to hosting public lectures and gallery talks.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s created a new black cultural renaissance. The museums established during this period moved awareness of African-American history to a new plateau. In their expression of a black perspective and through their efforts to preserve black history, these institutions sought to use their collections to motivate African Americans to "define themselves, their future and their understanding of their past" (Harding, 1967, p. 40). This came at a time when information about black achievements was generally excluded from common history texts and from other museums. Black history was seen, says Vincent Harding, "as a weapon for the Civil Rights Movement." Responding to the void of available information, the San Francisco African American Historical and Cultural Society was founded in 1955, soon followed by the DuSable Museum of African American History (originally the Ebony Museum) in 1961 in Chicago and the Afro-American Museum of Detroit in 1965.

During this period, a unique effort involving students, scouts, local scholars, and government agencies in an urban-archaeology project in Brooklyn, New York, uncovered a black settlement dating back to the nineteenth century, which led to the formation of the Society for the Preservation of Historic Weeksville. Today it continues its archaeological research on a forgotten early black community. The efforts of the Museum of Afro-American History in Boston during this period were instrumental in the preservation of the oldest existing black church building, the African Meeting House. The restored building serves as the centerpiece of the fourteen-site Black Heritage Trail, which explores Boston's rich nineteenth-century African-American community. Also in Boston, the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists was created to provide a leading showcase for artists of the African diaspora.

The Smithsonian Institution created the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum (now the Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture) in 1967 in Washington, D.C., as a "storefront" model for museum outreach. Its goal was to "enliven the community and enlighten the people it serves" (American Association of Museums, 1972, p. 6). Such an outreach was invaluable in the wake of the civil unrest that followed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s April 1968 assassination. Although the Smithsonian Institution provided funding support and technical expertise, exhibition planning, public programs, and overall administration were determined by the surrounding community. As a result, exhibition themes addressed community issues and urban problems as much as historical events. Other mainstream museums, often in response to confrontations with angry artists, were forced to reevaluate their relationships with urban communities and initiated outreach programs. Thus, the Junior Council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York played an important role in the creation of the Studio Museum of Harlem (1968), now the nation's foremost showcase for African-American artists. The Brooklyn Museum replicated the Smithsonian's effort by establishing an outreach center known as the New Muse.

The most noteworthy points of contention between mainstream museums and African-American artists and museum professionals regarded the exclusion of African-American artists in museum exhibitions. Two exhibitions in New York forced the issue of institutional discrimination: the Whitney Museum of American Art's "The 1930's: Painting and Sculpture in America" (1968) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 19001968" (1969).

With the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, African-American museums were founded with increasing frequency with the view that such institutions fostered "a way of empowerment" and a method of moving black history to a new plateau of public awareness. To provide space for these expressions and to serve greatly heightened interest, museums were formed throughout the country. The Afro-American Historical Society in New Haven, Connecticut, was founded as a research library with an estimated 250,000 volumes; and in Providence, the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society instituted pioneering techniques to involve black audiences in the actual collection and cataloging of artifacts. The Black Archives of Mid-America, based in both Kansas and Missouri, collects black cultural information from the midwestern region. To preserve the experience of blacks in the West, the Black America West Museum and Heritage Center in Denver was established. The United States bicentennial led to the creation of Philadelphia's Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum and led the way for tapping municipal, state, and federal support for African-American museums.

Between 1975 and 1990, black museums were formed in California, Texas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Colorado, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia, including new institutions devoted to the civil rights movement. In 1991 the National Civil Rights Museum opened in Memphis at the site of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. In addition, nearly twenty museums dedicated to exploring the history of African Americans and the African diaspora were founded in the 1990s in such states as Iowa, Louisiana, California, Washington, Florida, Maryland, and Indiana. Struggling with limited economic and human resources, these institutions nonetheless serve the broadest possible mandatecultural, educative, political, social, and civic. Their tradition of service forges a vital historical link between past and future.

In 2003 President George W. Bush signed legislation to establish the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Slated to open in 2012, this museum will gain national prominence on the mall in Washington, D.C., as part of the Smithsonian Institution. The symbolism of the prestigious location has already fulfilled the dreams of many African Americans who have sought the national recognition of African-American contributions through an institution in the nation's capital.

See also Archival Collections; Art Collections; Historians/Historiography; Music Museums and Historical Sites; Schomburg, Arthur


American Association of Museums. Museums: Their New Audience. Washington, D.C.: Author, 1972.

Austin, Joy Ford. "Their Face to the Rising Sun: Trends in the Development of African American Museums." Museum News 6 (1986): 3032.

Collier-Thomas, Bettye. "An Historical Overview of Black Museums and Institutions with Museums' Functions: 18001980." Negro History Bulletin 44, no. 3 (1981): 5658.

Dickerson, Amina. "Afro-American Museums: A Future Full of Promise." Roundtable Reports 9, nos. 2 and 3 (1984): 1418.

Harding, Vincent. "Power from Our People: The Source of the Modern Revival of Black History." Black Scholar 18 (1967): 40.

Horton, James Oliver, and Spencer R. Crew. "Afro-Americans and Museums: Towards a Policy of Inclusion." In History Museums in the United States: A Critical Assessment, edited by Warren Leon and Roy Rosenzweig. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

Reynolds, Gary A. and Beryl J. Wright. Against the Odds: African-American Artists and the Harmon Foundation. Newark, N.J.: The Newark Museum, 1989.

Roach, Ronald. "One Step Closer." Black Issues in Higher Education 21, no. 26 (2005). Available from <>.

Trescott, Jacqueline. "Museums on the Move." American Visions 1, no. 2 (1986): 2434.

amina dickerson (1996)

bridget r. cooks (2005)


views updated May 23 2018


varieties of museums
state cultural museums
natural history museums
the new museum idea

Museums were among the most important cultural institutions to emerge in Europe during the long nineteenth century, both reflecting and shaping the secularization, nationalization, and democratization of European culture. Earlier, churches, royalty, and their wealthy imitators had kept collections of art, treasures, and natural objects, but only after the French Revolution were these gradually transformed into the form familiar in the twenty-first century: a public institution aimed at cultural uplift for the citizenry and the preservation of cultural and natural heritage.

varieties of museums

Early modern collections often included a wide range of objects, but by the mid-eighteenth century specialization was already occurring. Institutionally, for most of the nineteenth century, the public museum landscape featured three basic forms: state or official museums displaying art, treasures, furnishings, and antiquities, generally derived from royal collections; collections for teaching and research at state-run universities and academies, especially in natural history, comparative anatomy, and medical anatomy; and collections formed by local voluntary associations, such as patriotic clubs or natural history societies, intended primarily for the benefit of their membership but often open to the public for a few hours a week. Additionally, private, profit-oriented museums came and went; most successful among these, especially in the later nineteenth century, were the waxworks museums modeled on Madame Tussaud's in London. (Originally a traveling show, it gained a permanent location in 1835.)

From the 1870s to 1914, museums proliferated. Specialized museums were established for ethnography, science and technology, commerce, hunting, folklife, and the celebration of cultural heroes. Additionally, hundreds of museums dedicated to local history, culture, and nature sprouted across Europe's smaller towns and provincial capitals in the same period. Rather than focusing on high art and science, these emphasized the preservation of rapidly vanishing folkways and nature. This cultivation of collective local memory through objects in museums represented a profound cultural phenomenon of the late nineteenth century.

state cultural museums

With their inception in the late eighteenth century, public cultural museums borrowed not only from royal models but also from sacred ones. Much art displayed in royal and civic collections had originally been intended for sacred spaces; its removal to a secular context was part of a broader assertion of the authority of secular culture characteristic of the Enlightenment. Conversely, museums, and art museums in particular, became sites for ritual revering of great art and the classical heritage as that which represented the best of European culture. The Louvre in Paris provided the leading model of a cultural museum devoted to high art.

Although the Louvre had a history as a royal residence and collection dating to the Middle Ages, when it opened as a public museum in August 1793, during the French Revolution, it represented a new kind of institution: a national museum, open free to all. Its paintings and sculptures would serve as models of taste to French citizens and sources of comparison for art students. As Napoleon's armies confiscated artwork across Europe beginning in the mid-1790s and sent it back to Paris, the new museum also symbolized the imperial power of the nation. In 1799, following trends already quietly developing in princely collections across Europe, the Louvre reorganized its Large Gallery to show the historical development of schools associated with different master artists and geographical areas (e.g., the Flemish school, the Italian school). This art-historical arrangement of paintings would become standard, and the Louvre became the leading European national art museum.

Britain offered other prominent models of cultural museums. Although a National Gallery of Art was established in 1824, it was overshadowed by the British Museum. This institution, established in 1753, retained an Enlightenment ambition to maintain a "universal" collection. As official and private adventurers donated materials from expeditions across the globe, its collections multiplied rapidly, especially its books and manuscripts (the future British Library), natural history objects, and Near Eastern and Greek antiquities. The latter included decorations looted from the Parthenon in Greece (bought from Lord Elgin in 1816), and massive statuary from ancient Egypt (the first brought back in 1819). Such exhibits both displayed Britain's imperial might and situated Britain at the apex of a long heritage of civilization.

A second approach to cultural museums developed in Britain at midcentury. Building upon the 1851 Great Exhibition, cultural reformers established a museum of arts and manufactures (opened in 1857). Rather than seeking to elevate the taste of the masses by exposing them to high art, the South Kensington Museum (renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1899) emphasized the decorative arts and the importance of aesthetic surroundings and furnishings in daily life. Controlling education policy for art and design across Britain, this museum provided a leading alternative to the Louvre in its vision for shaping citizens' aesthetics.

natural history museums

If cultural museums aimed at elevating the taste of the citizenry and instructing it on its place in the civilized order, natural history museums existed primarily for research. The goal of European natural history since the late eighteenth century was to determine the true and complete classificatory order of nature, and museums supplied its essential tools. Here again, the French took the lead, nationalizing the well-supported royal collections in 1793. The new Museum of Natural History in Paris, its collections enhanced by those of departed aristocrats, swelled further from the spoils of the Napoleonic Wars. Leading naturalists such as Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck (1744–1829) and Georges Cuvier (1769–1832), Europe's foremost

naturalist in the early nineteenth century, earned a living as professors curating the museum's different departments. Following Cuvier's theory that the true order of zoology was best revealed by comparing animals' internal anatomico-physiological organizations rather than their surface features, the natural history collections, organized taxonomically, were supplemented by a comparative anatomy collection, organized by organ system. Natural history curators around the world envied and imitated this combination.

After the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859, evolutionary theory gave new meaning to taxonomic collections, uniting them conceptually into a tree of life, but did not change their basic organization. Natural history museums divided over whether to include humans; in Britain and France they did, but German museums were more likely to relegate humanity to separate ethnographic museums aimed at showing not the continuity of "primitive" humans with animals but the unity and diversity of humankind.

the new museum idea

Although the official position of many state museums was that they "belonged" to the people, for most of the nineteenth century, such museums mainly served a much narrower audience of connoisseurs, offering no concessions to the ignorance of lay visitors. Most museums were open to casual visitors for only a few hours a week, typically including a Sunday afternoon, when middle-class visitors came seeking rational recreation. (Anecdotal evidence suggests that working-class visitors tended to find natural history museums more appealing than cultural museums, whereas middle-class visitors flocked to both.) As transportation networks thickened across Europe, museumgoing increased, producing pressures to make museums more accessible. In the last quarter of the century, reformers succeeded in making the museum a more truly public institution aimed at educating citizens with no specialized education in art or science.

Beginning in the late 1870s, museum directors across Europe (and America) enthusiastically adopted this new orientation. Museums expanded their opening hours, lowered their fees for at least some days, and cultivated school groups and classes of the new adult education movement. Culling overcrowded walls and cases to allow the visitor to focus undistracted on a smaller number of objects, curators removed most holdings to storage, available only to specialists upon request. This separation of "display" and "research" collections made manifest the idea that the museum served two audiences with fundamentally different needs, a principle christened the "New Museum idea" in 1893 by reformer Sir William Henry Flower (1831–1899), director of the British Museum (Natural History). Newer museums, especially local ones, often devoted themselves wholly to a general public audience.

The new public orientation encouraged museum curators to experiment with exhibit forms. Most striking is the spread in northern Europe of displays of objects recontextualized in their "natural" settings. Fin de siécle natural history museum directors led the way. Having removed their duplicates and variations to storage, the risk-takers among them supplemented their remaining classificatory exhibits with displays of animals in action, such as the dramatic exhibit of a pack of wolves attacking a small herd of elk at the Altona (Germany) City Museum, or niche-based dioramas showing animals in their native habitats, a form epitomized by the Biological Museum in Stockholm, Sweden (opened 1893). By 1914, most natural history museums had at least one such habitat display.

This shift from a classificatory goal to one setting objects in their "natural" context was not confined to natural history museums. The "period room" gained space in museums of arts and crafts; the "village kitchen" scene appeared in museums of folklore and local history; waxworks figures were used to re-create scenes from the lives of "primitives" in ethnographic museums, and from myth and history in popular waxworks museums (or "panopticons," as they were called on the Continent). Open-air museums, pioneered in Scandinavia in the 1880s, took the re-creation of a scene one step further, allowing visitors to enter an entire building landscape of a bygone era and thus step into its culture. By 1914, natural and cultural heritage had become the dominant themes of museums, simultaneously reflecting the centrality of "heritage" to the museum concept and the centrality of museums to the self-representation of European culture.

See alsoEducation; Leisure; Libraries; Popular and Elite Culture.


Primary Sources

Balcarres, Lord (David Alexander Edward Lindsay). "Museums of Art." In Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. 19, 60–64. New York, 1911.

Flower, William Henry. Essays on Museums and Other Subjects Connected with Natural History. Freeport, N.Y., 1972. Reprint of the 1898 edition.

Holland, William Jacob. "Museums of Science." In Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. 19, 64–69. New York, 1911.

Martin, Philipp Leopold. Die Praxis der Naturgeschichte. 3 vols. Stuttgart, 1870–1882.

Secondary Sources

Bennett, Tony. The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics. London, 1995. A provocative analysis of the social meaning of museum spaces, with an emphasis on Britain and its colonies.

Duncan, Carol, and Alan Wallach. "The Universal Survey Museum," Art History 3 (1980): 448–469. Analyzes the ritual functions of the museum and their origins.

Great Museums of Europe: The Dream of the Universal Museum. Introduction by Antonio Paolucci. Milan, 2002. A beautiful picture book of eight European art museums with historical essays on individual museums.

Preziosi, Donald, and Claire Farago, eds. Grasping the World: The Idea of the Museum. Aldershot, U.K., 2004. A comprehensive collection of essays representing the latest scholarship on museum history and theory, emphasizing art and culture.

Sandberg, Mark B. Living Pictures, Missing Persons. Mannequins, Museums, and Modernity. Princeton, N.J., 2003. A deeply thoughtful study of museums and modernity in Scandinavia at the turn of the twentieth century.

Sherman, Daniel J. Worthy Monuments: Art Museums and the Politics of Culture in Nineteenth-Century France. Cambridge, Mass., 1989. A pioneering analysis, with emphasis on cultural and institutional politics.

Lynn K. Nyhart


views updated May 14 2018

museums. The foundation of museums was an offshoot of the great explosion of knowledge in the early modern period which stemmed from the invention of printing, the voyages of discovery, the new interest in the classical world, and the increase in literacy, and it forms part of the Enlightenment. It is the counterpart of the attempt to classify and explain phenomena which stimulated the publication of encyclopedias and dictionaries, and for years the term museum was used to signify a study or library.

It was not unusual for 16th-cent. rulers to have collections, often of a miscellaneous character, partly because they exchanged so many gifts. In Britain the royal family rarely took the lead, but a number of private citizens were avid collectors. Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631) concentrated largely on manuscripts but also collected coins and fossils. Sir Walter Cope, his contemporary, had an Indian canoe, an Egyptian mummy, and an African necklace made of teeth. John Tradescant opened his ‘Ark’ at Lambeth, charging sixpence admission, and his son published a catalogue of the curiosities in 1656, claiming a dodo and many non-European plants. A rival commercial collection was Robert Hubert's, near St Paul's, who claimed ‘thousands of other rarities of nature’. This collection, though primarily a museum of oddities, was purchased by the Royal Society, which could not look after it and eventually gave it to the British Museum. Museums long retained their quirky and unusual character and Johnson defined them in the 1750s as ‘repositories of learned curiosities’. Tradescant junior bequeathed his collection to Elias Ashmole, who left it to Oxford University. The Ashmolean Museum opened in 1683 in what is now the Museum of the History of Science, and the general public was admitted on payment. The Balfour collection in Scotland, handed over in 1697 to the University of Edinburgh had a less happy fate, and was neglected and dispersed.

The change from private cabinets to public museums, initiated by the Ashmolean, was continued in 1753 by the foundation of the British Museum. Sir Hans Sloane (d. 1753) had a collection of more than 100,000 specimens, many of them plants from the West Indies, which he had visited. He left it to the nation, and the new museum, supported by a lottery, also incorporated the Harleian and Cottonian collections. Although the public was admitted, it was on a very restricted scale, and the principal librarian in the 19th cent. defended Saturday and Sunday closing on the grounds that it kept out ‘sailors and girls whom they might bring with them’.

A great increase in museums, national and provincial, followed. The National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland was founded in 1780, the Royal Scottish Museum in 1854, the two amalgamating in 1985. The Ulster Museum began in 1831, becoming the national museum in 1961. The National Museum of Wales opened in 1907. The Victoria and Albert Museum (1852) and the Science Museum at South Kensington were part of a great complex triggered by the Great Exhibition of 1851. Most of the national museums have branches: the Science Museum runs the railway museum at York and the Museum of Photography, Film, and TV at Bradford. In addition to the great national museums, municipal museums were founded, assisted by friendly legislation: an Act for encouraging the establishment of museums in large towns (1845) permitted the raising of a halfpenny rate. The Liverpool Museum opened in 1851, the Birmingham Museum in 1885. In the 20th cent. the emphasis was on specialist collections—the National Maritime Museum (1934), the Royal Air Force Museum (1963), and a host of smaller museums devoted to motor cycles, trams, cider, musical instruments, costume, and teddy bears. Museum complexes such as the Ironbridge Trust at Coalbrookdale and open-air museums like Beamish in Co. Durham have proved very successful. After 1945 there was a determined effort to make museums less forbidding, to remove the glass cases and drawers, and to use displays, films, and hands-on working models. Many villages have their own splendidly idiosyncratic local collections, even if they are housed in huts and open only on Tuesday afternoons.

J. A. Cannon


views updated May 11 2018


Although interest in collecting artworks and historical objects began long before the Renaissance, the collection and display of cultural items took on new meaning in the Renaissance. In the Middle Ages, rulers often displayed gems and other precious objects to show their power and authority. They did not view collecting as a cultural activity. The idea of the museum as a place to house culture and knowledge emerged only in the Renaissance, promoted by the attitudes and values of humanism*.

With their passion for antiquity*, humanists encouraged collectors to seek out coins, statues, manuscripts, and other artifacts* from ancient Greece and Rome. Many early collectors, such as Cosimo de' Medici in Florence and Isabella d'Este in Mantua, kept their treasures in their libraries. By the mid-1500s the material considered worth collecting had expanded from ancient artifacts to items related to many fields of knowledge. For example, the European discovery of the Americas spurred interest in collecting natural and cultural objects from the New World. The use of the word museum for these Renaissance collections was inspired by the great Museum of Alexandria, which supposedly held all of the knowledge of the ancient world. The word also referred to the nine Muses, mythological guardians of the arts and sciences.

Renaissance collectors saw themselves as inheriting the role of ancient encyclopedists (collectors of knowledge) such as the Greek philosopher Aristotle and the Roman scholar Pliny. Collecting allowed them to see the changes in knowledge that had taken place since ancient times and gave them a more complete view of classical* culture. Eventually these private collections took on a more public and social role. By the 1600s, visiting the most famous museums, known as "cabinets of curiosity," became part of the travels of Europe's educated upper classes.

Despite the popularity of these private collections, few of them survived the death of their creators. Usually, the collector's family sold the pieces and divided the profits. As a result, people began to leave their collections to cities to preserve them. This reflected a growing understanding that museums should be public institutions run by the state.

However, the early state-controlled museums were not necessarily open to the public. For example, in the late 1500s Florence's Uffizi galleries were a set of state office buildings taken over by the grand duke Francesco I as a space for his favorite collectibles. The privilege of viewing the collection was usually limited to family members and diplomats. Only over time did royal collectors and governments see museums as valuable public institutions and open them to all visitors.

(See alsoArt; Art in Italy. )

* humanism

Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living

* antiquity

era of the ancient Mediterranean cultures of Greece and Rome, ending around a.d. 400

* artifact

ornament, tool, or other object made by humans

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome