Musems Today: A Review of the Literature

The second week we read from Reinventing the Museum: The Evolving Definition on the Paradigm Shift, a collection of essays on museums compiled and edited by Gail Anderson .

First up was Anderson’s Framework.  The Framework discussed how museums are changing in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Anderson discussed how we can reinvent the museum for a new age.  She advocates for a new kind of museum experience.  “The traditional communication ideology of the museum has been to see the museum as the holder of knowledge and truth with a responsibility to exercise one-way communication to the public.  In the reinvented museum, communication between museum and public is exemplified by the mutually respectful relationship; the ideology of two-way communication with the public creates a more responsive interchange of ideas and shared understandings supplanting the more traditional, paternal approach” (pp. 8).

Next was the the first essay, The Gloom of the Museum, from 1917 and written by John Cotton Dana.  It talked about how museums were then, and how they needed to change to be more accessible to the people.  Instead of being off somewhere in the middle of nowhere surrounded by trees, they should be in city centers so that people can easily get to them.  He also suggested lending collections out to other museums so that people in other places could see the artifacts.  I think in the  almost 100 years since it’s writting, we’ve almost got it “right.”  Museums do tend to be in downtown areas of cities and do typically lend exhibits out or have them come to them.

The second essay from Reinventing the Museum was Culture and Museums in the Winds of Change by Douglas Worts.   Worts discusses the changing meaning behind culture and museums and how the meaning behind culture is always evolving.  Globalization’s effects on culture and what it means are also discussed.

Finally, from a list of resources on the subject I chose to explore the Journal of the History of Collections, which can be accessed through the USF libraries catalog.  The journal is full of articles on every kind of collection and museum.  I chose to read one of Isabella Stewart Gardner, a 19th Century collector of various objects who built a museum to house her vast collections and then donated it to the city of Boston.  “Her own philosopghy is stated clearly in her will in the bequest of the museum ‘for the education and enjoyment of the public forever’, thus fulfilling her ambition to enrich American cultural life and demonstrating one aspect of her role as collector to be truly philanthropic” (pp. 188).  Mattews explores what motivated the woman to collect to the amount that she did.  She argues that Gardner’s collecting was motivated by a series of losses as the start of a new collection and acquisition of items seemed to coincide with the death of her child, parent’s, in-laws, and other friends and family who died suddenly one after the other.  In today’s world, people we classify as “hoarders” are typically motivated by similar losses and emotional events.  I think this raises and interesting question about individuals who are collectors of various objects who perhaps don’t plan to eventually house them in a public museum, but instead keep them as “private” collections.


Dana, J.C. (2012). The gloom of the museum. In G. Anderson (Eds.), Reinventing the museum. (pp.17-33). Lanham, Maryland: AltaMira Press.

Matthews, R. (2009).  Collectors and why they collect: Isabella stewart gardener and her museum of art.  Journal of the History of Collections, 21,2, 183-189.

Worts, D. (2012). Culture and museums in the winds of change. In G. Anderson (Eds.), Reinventing the museum. (pp.250-265). Lanham, Maryland: AltaMira Press.

* The Journal of the History of Collections is accessible through the USF Libraries databases.  However, I am unsure wheather Anderson’s book is available in e format through the databases.


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