Defining the Characteristics of the Universal Museum: Missions, Collections, and Size
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The purpose of this study is to identify and describe the characteristics of the universal museum as they apply to the institution's mission, collections, and overall size. The universal museum has continued to evolve since the first museums started to form in the 16th century. In the 21st century, renewed interest and disagreement has occurred within the museum community over the universal museum's involvement in the debate on cultural property. This debate has lead to many theories and opinions by individuals on what a universal museum is and what it should practice. This research was meant to provide clarification of the audience and global outlook of mission statements, the quality of collections, and scope of the resources of a universal museum and if it is a separate category of museum. To examine these characteristics, a group of nine American universal museums were compared and contrasted to nine museums with similar collection practices and in similar geographic locations. A document analysis of these institutions' mission and value statements and IRS Forms 990 forms were used to explore missions, collection practices, and size of institution. The research shows universal museums have the same characteristics of the stated audience and global outlook in missions and collections standards but very greatly in size and the amount of resources available to them compared to other museums. These results make the universal museum appear less of a different category of institution but more of a group of large institutions trying to claim special justification for contested practices surrounding the debate on cultural property.
- Museology