Museums Heritage and Society
In 1980s museums were majorly small-scale ventures which were devoted to numerous topics but the commentators focused on large organizations. The independent organizations were concerned with the previous industrial past of the museums. The independent sector, as a result, was associated with heritage as opposed to established public museums. Britain is experiencing cultural booming with new heritage and museums opening at a fast rate as people pick up their heritage trails. The museums are now considered a major industry not only to Britain but also to other different continents such as Australia, the United States and some parts of Europe. The study of the museum over the past has been regarded to be specialized and mysterious with the capacity to trace artifacts' culture, location and time. The research is based on the historical collaboration practices, processes, social relations, heritage and exhibit design of the museum (Meecham 2018). The research further studies the New Museology concept that was pointed out by Peter Vergo and other historians concerning the heritage of the museums. In so
The New Museology was regarded as a social institution facilitating political agenda due to its inherent shared assumptions linked to social multicultural groups. New Museology questions traditional museum approaches regarding the interpretation, meaning, authenticity, authority, and value. Criticism of the museum from spectators and players has been an intellectual sport over the years (Vergo 1997). The criticism belittles the old concept as irrelevant and proposes to adopt reformed strategies for better service provision from the museums. The implementation of the reforms was granted to the ineffectual constituency which was committed to the institution’s future.
The relationship between museums and history has close kin from interpreting and gathering materials from the past. There have been conflicts of taking the role of representing the meaning and purpose of the past museum which has turned into a battlefield. Museum history is primarily taught by museum professionals as well as visual and cultural studies individuals. The initial intention of museums' establishment was to retrieve artifacts from the original environment and circulate them as private property throughout the world projecting a new meaning. The extensive private collection was initially held and open for a few members of the public for educational purposes and experiences (Barrett & Millner 2016). The result of the trajectory led to the birth of museums in England. John Lambeth in the 17th century opened a spectrum of collections to the public which was visited on payment of a specified fee which was known as ‘The Ark’. The accumulation of the entity was owned by a single person but later on, the powers were passed to Elias Ashmole who in turn donated collections to Oxford University hence the term ‘museum’ emerged.
The University turned the nature of the museum into a public foundation rather than a personal collection. The process of transformation of museums from private to public institutions is also evident during the foundation of the British Museum. the origin of the collections present in the British Museum is attributed to Sir Hans Sloane private collection. Hans collections were first presented in the Great Russell Street and later on in Cheyne walk. The collections were available for public viewing and were arranged in a systematic classification and order. Hans will state that the collection to be purchased with the values of ₤20,000 and payment made to his family. The preservation of the collection remained the same and was adjusted in terms of perpetuity and public views.
The acquisition of the artifacts was beneficial to the public, especially for Montagu House in Bloomsbury. The museum was not only for entertainment, inspection or to satisfy the curiosity of the learners but was meant for general use which was beneficial to the public. In the 19th century, the foundation of the museums was accepted while the government strongly supported principles administered to the museums. The first principle suggested that the collection and display of the artifacts should be for educational purposes and the enhancement of knowledge. The second principle suggested that the artifacts should be arranged in a systematic way that can be recognized through classification. The third principle stated that artifacts should not be owned by a private individual but administered to more than one owner on behalf of the public. The last principle states that the artifacts should be easily accessible to the public and a special fee arrangement to be quoted to the public.
The principles provided meaning and enhanced the degree of idealism during the boom and establishment of museums during the period. The classification of the museums enhanced the order and meaning from objects thus giving out unique experiences from the bewilderment of rocks, poetry, metal implements and fragments (Alexander et al 2017). The different compositions of the artifacts make the viewer look for details that project their uniqueness. This proves that the visual experience is not the only cause that triggers museum visits. The feeling triggered by the composition of the images and their idea promote the beauty of the crafts, antiquity, authenticity, and poignancy of the collection is catapulted towards a fantasy world.
The New Museology almost deals entirely on museum information, the pragmatics of acquisitions, data based on the institution's support and interpretive displays. Data collection in the museums is categorized from institutional archives, public relations, registration files, administrative data, curatorial records, personal files, financial records, and correspondence among others. The categories of the data collection are usually separate from one another in terms of technology metal filling and paper card filling. Documents and data storage in the museum are complimentary thus become part of the museum's mission to preserve them. The heritage debate that occurred in the 1980s was concerned with inauthenticity, nostalgia, and commercialism.
The question of heritage has grown over the years to other parts of the continent such as Australia, America and in Africa addressing the issue of reconciliation, identity, community, trauma, inclusion, and exclusion. Robert Lumley states that the Anglo-American debate that occurred in the 1980s continues to influence the direction concerning heritage. Peter Vergo was dissatisfied with the ‘old museology’ on the basis of values, politics, and history. According to Mathisen (2018), the emergence of interest concerning The New Museology was associated with the intellectual development of cultural studies, social history, and the quest of knowledge advancement. The period was connected to the massive development of museums. Statistics show that at the beginning of the 20th century Britain recorded 530 museums which were mostly funded by the government and the local authorities.
The figure rose from 900 to 2500 between 1960 -1980s which prompted commentators to claim that the rate of opening museums is almost after every night. Globally, statistics show that more than 95% of the museum was opened after World War II. The majority of the new venues were entrenched by private individuals, a group of individuals with special interests or businesses. The characteristics of the new venues were usually operated on a low budget, concentrated on non-academic subjects, and had a small number of working staff (Mathisen 2018). Kenneth Hudson claimed that the change of subject matter and style was revolutionary in the entire world. The new independent venues challenged the existing practices which lead to the debate on character and the role of the museums. The newly acquired practices were equally a subject of analysis specifically during the 1980s heritage.
The opinion regarding the new independent venues was discussed by historians, journalists, art practitioners, and cultural theorists whose opinions were aired on a national newspaper. In the mid-1990s, British universities offered courses in the discipline which covered buildings, theme parks, landscapes, intangible cultural practices, attractions and museums (Halpin 1997). The New Museology took another angle from social histories of art, history, post-structuralism, literary theory, and heritage studies adapted from geography and archeology.
The 1980s heritage debate
The debate was discussed widely Robert Hewson being one of the main contributors airing his views in his book titled “The Heritage Industry: British in a Climate of Decline’. The first paragraphs of his book invoke the constant rise of the number of independent museums which were producing heritage rather than goods affecting the county's economy. The argument behind his claims putting Wigan Pier Heritage Centre as a primary subject, he stated that there was a collapse of industrialization in that area. The number of collieries had declined from 400-11 and over 100, textile mills had been closed and there was no more canal traffic by the year the 1950s. Unemployment rose to over 18% by 1983 in the country due to the closure of industries (Stam 1993). The difference between traditional and new independent museums was also highlighted by historian Raphael Samuel who celebrated heritage.
Raphael argues that the rise of independent museums was not, in any case, a symptom of deindustrialization as argued by other commentators. He claimed that the emergence of the rural museum was as a result of the mechanization of agriculture, the development of diesel trains, and industrial collection which spurred employment during the 1950s and 1960s. Samuels's evidence concerning his argument was based on the structure of building from the past and the present skyscrapers of the future. Samuel further claimed that the independent museum had an impact on the growing democratization in history. Samuel wrote that history was a form that presented professional historians with knowledge through archive-based research which encouraged introspection and inbreed addressing small groups of practitioners. Samuel further suggests that the emergence of small independent museums strived to retrieve historical information, which was a source of knowledge and had different support in their work thus they should be appreciated. Neil Ascherson's remarks were harsh stating that an individual can result to pay for an experience in the coal mine whereas visitors walk through full heights galleries. The comment was meant for effectiveness and not accuracy. Raphael, Neil Ascherson together with other professionals engaged in harsh criticism based on the subject of heritage.
By the year 1980, the public sector museum came under constant pressure of attaining economic independence. The public museum had evolved and became commercially-minded hence not counting on public subsidy due to high expenditure rate. In the present eras, museums have expanded and opened cafes, gift shops, restaurants and other money-making enterprises including the introduction of entrance fees. The policy change affected the attitude towards museums between the 1990s and the 2000s. Entrance fees of museums were dropped as a result the museums received funding from the Department for culture, media, and sports (Pearce 2010).
Direct funding of the museums was a strategy set to attract more visitors from different ethnic structures hence increasing the number of children visiting the museum to around 7 million. For the museum to attract more audience, they needed user-friendly technology for advertising their collections such as pamphlets and wall texts. Educational programs were intensified in order to make the collections more accessible to different audiences. The museum curators began to provide services to children and disabled people. Visitors were given the opportunity to further their interest through the provision of multimedia resources.
The new museology concept has impacted the present museum all over Australia. The concept highlights strategies of maintaining the national heritage, and providing knowledge to different professionals as well as ordinary people with the available resources. The contemporary art museum exhibits collect and interpret art globally and across Australia. The museum is well-located and exhibits lots of colors that are attractive to children (Nieroba 2018). The contemporary art museum offers art baby programs like tummy time activities and museum tours for babies between ages 0-12 months. The contemporary art museum engages in exhibition which entails special events such as solo exhibition, thematic exhibitions, new work from upcoming artists, sculptures, and programs that covers a wide area of diversity (Cole & Brooks 2017). The contemporary museum is one of the country's unique shopping destinations with modern stores pursuing global contemporary art. The stores also pursue outstanding gifts and cultural publications. The new museology is relevant in the present museum setting in Australia. The concept of the new museology was promoted by self-driven projects of funding public museums unlike the previous allocation of funds from different departments of the government. The dependency of the museum was on the commercial viability of the entities to sustain them.