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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 Museum collections no longer represent, as they did then, the horizon of human understanding.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 done—adding another Carracci, crustacean, or car—and 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 present—because it is on these collections that their future will be built.


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Julian Spalding

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Molecular distillation to My station and its duties:Museums - Origins, Early Development, Growth, Agencies Of Influence, Future Challenges, Bibliography