Museum displays are given meaning and purpose by the context in which they are created and how they are showcased; museology endeavours to discover the catalysts that support the growth of these associations and their success through such efficiencies. The scope of research goes beyond superficial terms, delving further into topics such as audiences to which exhibits are directed, responsibilities encountered by way of function, as well as some deliberation as to possible futures as an institution. The difficulties that are faced by historians and curators to produce a product that appeals to a varied public and can withstand criticism stimulates ongoing research.
Conception of museums
Public museums were created to replace private collections by displaying collected works where the general public could profit from a shared experience. The study of art, artifacts, and every object imaginable was to become more accessible to everyone, a means of discovery and wonder. In origin, the idea dates back to classical times, but publicly funded foundations can only be traced back a few hundred years. The curiosity cabinet is the earliest form of a museum in Western civilization.(Museum Origins: Readings in Early Museum History and Philosophy (2008) by Hugh H Genoways and Mary Anne Andrei)
Birth of museology
Museology is the study of the "museum experience" seen both through the eyes of the institution, and the visitor. The motivation factors for both groups that result in the "museum experience" change over time with the collection on display, and the history of this change is also a subject of museology. Museology has only just recently begun to see an improvement in strides made by historians and scholars to focus on its true potential as a legitimate field of study. In 2000, very little discussion had taken place and virtually no research had been done at all. As with many topics, it has taken time for appeal to permeate, and for academia to take notice and begin abrasively questioning the essential and recouping answers to an important dialogue. The actual breaking through of museology as a genuine field of enquiry has been clouded by controversy to the extent that even in its early stages as a field, has fractured into an old and new.
Reasons why this specific scholarly perspective of review has been overlooked may be directly linked with a lack of priority and due to more pressing financial circumstances such as funding and managing collections. These being more practical issues that take precedence have caused a slower infiltration into the mainstream and left many disenchanted with it as a whole. Also, the theme itself is inherently correlated with not just conversation but debate often leaving the subject at a standstill and experts unsatisfied as so much of it relies on theory instead of hard evidence.
Tourism as a vehicle for success
Museums, as a result of competition and the growing tourism market, face a constant identity crisis and must always remain current in an economy that privileges experiences, immediacy, and what the industry calls adventure. But the booming market plays two roles in the lives of museums and museology. In recent years, there has been tremendous growth in the museum population worldwide; the opportunity created by tourism has left the two intimately linked, but as their relationship grows, so too do concerns as to how to cope with public criticism. A larger audience for museums begs understanding in how to satisfy needs and expectations; museology takes into consideration and studies those public demands and build theories as to why they work and how to duplicate them.
Museum media as a mode of communication
Museums are the quintessential institutions which use ‘medium’ and ‘message’ as an identical thought through material and the tangible. Museology seeks to understand and develop proficient exhibits which engage the audience by way of looking at the past and truly grasping techniques and displays that are productive and how they can be adapted to changing societies and utilized to effectively educate and stir interest, awareness, or curiosity. Both form and function become sources to be analysed as they allow greater comprehension of an audience’s overall reception of a message. In establishing continuity between museum and media, popular culture and tourism, museology has taken a transdisciplinary approach broadening discussions and utilizing a wider scope of methodology to explain the inevitable changes which occur.
Artifacts as primary sources
Because the framework of museums lie in material objects as primary sources, historians recognize inherent issues, problematic to the ‘truth’ which they seek to unfold and have been forced to adapt their tactics when drawing information out; this has led to tremendous efforts to borrow from other disciplines. Museology itself has been vital to recognizing this issue and extracting resources from discussions in an effort to resolve concerns such as this which form the structure of its research.
- Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean (1995). "Museums and communication: an introductory essay". In Eilean Hooper-Greenhill. Museum, Media, Message 1995. London: Routledge. pp. 1–12. ISBN 978-0-415-11672-5.
- Kavanagh, Gaynor (1996). "Making Histories, Making Memories". In Gaynor Kavanagh. Making Histories in Museums 1996. London: Leicester University Press. pp. 1–14. ISBN 978-0-8264-7926-6.
- Merriman, Nick (1999). "Introduction". In Nick Merriman. Making Early Histories in Museums 1999. London: Leicester University Press. pp. 1–11. ISBN 978-0-7185-0110-5.
- Vergo, Peter (1989). "Introduction,". In Peter Vergo. The New Museology. London: Reaktion Books. pp. 1–5.
- Witcomb, Andrea (2003). Re-Imagining the Museum: Beyond the Mausoleum. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-203-36102-3.