The Uffizi Gallery, the most visited museum in Italy and an important museum in the world. View toward the Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence.
An example of a quite small museum: A maritime museum located in the village of Bolungarvík, Vestfirðir, Iceland showing a 19th-century fishing base: typical boat of the period and associated industrial buildings.

A museum (/mjuˈziːəm/; myoo-zee-um) is an institution that cares for (conserves) a collection of artefacts and additional objects of artistic, cultural, historical, or scientific importance and a few public museums make them available for public viewing through exhibits that might be permanent or temporary. Most large museums are located in major cities throughout the world and more local ones exist in smaller cities, towns and even the countryside. Museums have varying aims, ranging from serving researchers and specialists to serving the general public. The goal of serving researchers is increasingly shifting to serving the general public.

Some of the most attended museums include the Louvre in Paris, the National Museum of China in Beijing, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the British Museum in London, the National Gallery in London, and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. There are a large number of types of museums, including art museums, natural history museums, science museums, war museums and children's museums.

As of the 2010s, the continuing acceleration in the digitization of information, combined with the increasing capacity of digital information storage, is causing the traditional model of museums (i.e. as static bricks-and-mortar "collections of collections" of three-dimensional specimens and artifacts) to expand to include virtual exhibits and high-resolution images of their collections that patrons can peruse, study, and explore from any place with Internet. The city with the largest number of museums is Mexico City with over 128 museums. According to The World Museum Community, there are more than 55,000 museums in 202 countries.


The English "museum" comes from the Latin word, and is pluralized as "museums" (or rarely, "musea"). It is originally from the Ancient Greek Μουσεῖον (Mouseion), which denotes a place or temple dedicated to the Muses (the patron divinities in Greek mythology of the arts), and hence a building set apart for study and the arts, especially the Musaeum (institute) for philosophy and research at Alexandria by Ptolemy I Soter about 280 BCE. The first museum/library is considered to be the one of Plato in Athens. Notwithstanding Pausanias gives another place called "Museum," namely a small hill in Classical Athens opposite to the Akropolis. The hill was called Mouseion after Mousaious, a man who used to sing on the hill and died there of old age and was subsequently buried there as well.


Open-air museum in Pribylina, Slovakia in 2009

The purpose of modern museums is to collect, preserve, interpret, and display items of artistic, cultural, or scientific significance for the education of the public. The purpose can additionally depend on one's point of view. To a family looking for entertainment on a Sunday afternoon, a trip to a local history museum or large city art museum can be a fun, and enlightening way to spend the day. To city leaders, a healthy museum community can be seen as a gauge of the economic health of a city, and a way to increase the sophistication of its inhabitants. To a museum professional, a museum might be seen as a way to educate the public about the museum's mission, such as civil rights or environmentalism. Museums are, above all, storehouses of knowledge. In 1829, James Smithson's bequest, that would fund the Smithsonian Institution, stated he wanted to establish an institution "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge."

Museums of natural history in the late nineteenth century exemplified the Victorian desire for consumption and for order. Gathering all examples of each classification of a field of knowledge for research and for display was the purpose. As American colleges grew in the nineteenth century, they developed their own natural history collections for the use of their students. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the scientific research in the universities was shifting toward biological research on a cellular level, and cutting edge research moved from museums to university laboratories. While a large number of large museums, such as the Smithsonian Institution, are still respected as research centers, research is no longer a main purpose of most museums. While there's an ongoing debate about the purposes of interpretation of a museum's collection, there has been a consistent mission to protect and preserve artefacts for future generations. Much care, expertise, and expense is invested in preservation efforts to retard decomposition in ageing documents, artifacts, artworks, and buildings. All museums display objects that are important to a culture. As historian Steven Conn writes, "To see the thing itself, with one's own eyes and in a public place, surrounded by additional people having a few version of the same experience can be enchanting."

Museum purposes vary from institution to institution. Some favour education over conservation, or vice versa. For example, in the 1970s, the Canada Science and Technology Museum favoured education over preservation of their objects. They displayed objects as well as their functions. One exhibit featured a historic printing press that a staff member used for visitors to create museum memorabilia. Some seek to reach a wide audience, such as a national or state museum, while a few museums have specific audiences, like the LDS Church History Museum or local history organizations. Generally speaking, museums collect objects of significance that comply with their mission statement for conservation and display. Although most museums don't allow physical contact with the associated artifacts, there are a few that are interactive and encourage a more hands-on approach. In 2009, Hampton Court Palace, palace of Henry VIII, opened the council room to the general public to create an interactive environment for visitors. Rather than allowing visitors to handle 500-year-old objects, the museum created replicas, as well as replica costumes. The daily activities, historic clothing, and even temperature changes immerse the visitor in a slice of what Tudor life might have been.

Most visited museums

This section lists the 20 most visited museums as compiled by AECOM and the Themed Entertainment Association's annual report on the world's most visited attractions. The cities of London and Washington, D.C. contain more of the 20 most visited museums in the world than any others.

RankMuseumCityCountryVisitor count (annually)
LouvreParis France8,600,000
National Museum of ChinaBeijing China7,290,000
National Museum of Natural HistoryWashington, D.C. United States6,900,000
National Air and Space MuseumWashington, D.C. United States6,900,000
British MuseumLondon United Kingdom6,820,686
The Metropolitan Museum of ArtNew York City United States6,533,106
Vatican MuseumsVatican City (Rome)  Vatican City6,002,251
Shanghai Science and Technology MuseumShanghai China5,948,000
National GalleryLondon United Kingdom5,908,254
National Palace MuseumTaipei Taiwan5,301,860
Natural History Museum, LondonLondon United Kingdom5,284,023
American Museum of Natural HistoryNew York City United States5,000,000
Tate ModernLondon United Kingdom4,712,581
National Gallery of ArtWashington, D.C. United States4,104,331
National Museum of American HistoryWashington, D.C. United States4,100,000
State Hermitage MuseumSt. Petersburg Russia3,668,031
Musée d'OrsayParis France3,440,000
Victoria and Albert MuseumLondon United Kingdom3,432,325
The Science MuseumLondon United Kingdom3,356,212
Reina SofíaMadrid Spain3,249,591


The museum of ancient times, such as the Museum of Alexandria, would be equivalent to a modern graduate institute.

Early museums

The Orthodox Church, later an Ottoman mosque, and now a museum, Hagia Sophia was once the pride of the Byzantine Empire. Historically located in Constantinople, is now modern day Istanbul, Turkey.

Early museums began as the private collections of wealthy individuals, families or institutions of art and rare or curious natural objects and artifacts. These were often displayed in so-called wonder rooms or cabinets of curiosities. The oldest such museum in evidence was Ennigaldi-Nanna's museum, dating from c. 530 BC and devoted to Mesopotamian antiquities; it apparently had sufficient traffic as to warrant labels for the ordered collection, although there's no source for this information.

Public access to these museums was often possible for the "respectable", especially to private art collections, but at the whim of the owner and his staff. One way that elite men throughout this time period gained a higher social status in the world of elites was by fitting a collector of these curious objects and displaying them. Many of the items in these collections were new discoveries and these collectors or naturalists, after a large number of of these people held interest in natural sciences, were eager to obtain them. By putting their collections in a museum and on display, they not only got to show their fantastic finds but they additionally used the museum as a way to sort and "manage the empirical explosion of materials that wider dissemination of ancient texts, increased travel, voyages of discovery, and more systematic forms of communication and exchange had produced."

One of these naturalists and collectors was Ulisse Aldrovandi, whose collection policy of gathering as a large number of objects and facts about them was "encyclopedic" in nature, reminiscent of that of Pliny, the Roman philosopher and naturalist. The idea was to consume and collect as much knowledge as possible, to put everything they collected and everything they knew in these displays. In time, however, museum philosophy would change and the encyclopaedic nature of information that was so enjoyed by Aldrovandi and his cohorts would be dismissed as well as "the museums that contained this knowledge." The eighteenth century scholars of the Age of Enlightenment saw their ideas of the museum as superior and based their natural history museums on "organization and taxonomy" rather than displaying everything in any order after the style of Aldrovandi.

The Museo del Prado in Madrid (est. 1785).

The Museo del Prado in Madrid was designed in the Age of Enlightenment, in 1785, to house the Natural History Cabinet, but finally the building was converted into the new Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures, opened in 1819, with the aim of showing the works of art belonging to the Spanish Crown. Nowadays, with the nearby Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Museo Reina Sofía, forms Madrid's Golden Triangle of Art.

While a few of the oldest public museums in the world opened in Italy throughout the Renaissance, the majority of these significant museums in the world opened throughout the eighteenth century:

Modern museums

The Peristylia hall in National Museum of Indonesia in Jakarta, the largest and one of the oldest museum in Indonesia.
The Cambodian National Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, constructed in Cambodian architecture.

The first "public" museums were often accessible only by the middle and upper classes. It can be difficult to gain entrance. When the British Museum opened to the public in 1759, it was a concern that large crowds could damage the artifacts. Prospective visitors to the British Museum had to apply in writing for admission, and small groups were allowed into the galleries each day. The British Museum became increasingly popular throughout the nineteenth century, amongst all age groups and social classes who visited the British Museum, especially on public holidays.

The Ashmolean Museum, however, founded in 1677 from the personal collection of Elias Ashmole, was set up in the University of Oxford to be open to the public and is considered by a few to be the first modern public museum. The collection included that of Elias Ashmole which he had collected himself, including objects he had acquired from the gardeners, travellers and collectors John Tradescant the elder and his son of the same name. The collection included antique coins, books, engravings, geological specimens, and zoological specimens—one of which was the stuffed body of the last dodo ever seen in Europe; but by 1755 the stuffed dodo was so moth-eaten that it was destroyed, except for its head and one claw. The museum opened on 24 May 1683, with naturalist Robert Plot as the first keeper. The first building, which became known as the Old Ashmolean, is at times attributed to Sir Christopher Wren or Thomas Wood.

In France, the first public museum was the Louvre Museum in Paris, opened in 1793 throughout the French Revolution, which enabled for the first time free access to the former French royal collections for people of all stations and status. The fabulous art treasures collected by the French monarchy over centuries were accessible to the public three days each "décade" (the 10-day unit which had replaced the week in the French Republican Calendar). The Conservatoire du muséum national des Arts (National Museum of Arts's Conservatory) was charged with organising the Louvre as a national public museum and the centrepiece of a planned national museum system. As Napoléon I conquered the great cities of Europe, confiscating art objects as he went, the collections grew and the organisational task became more and more complicated. After Napoleon was defeated in 1815, a large number of of the treasures he had amassed were gradually returned to their owners (and a large number of were not). His plan was never fully realized, but his concept of a museum as an agent of nationalistic fervour had a profound influence throughout Europe.

American museums eventually joined European museums as the world's leading centres for the production of new knowledge in their fields of interest. A period of intense museum building, in both an intellectual and physical sense was realised in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (this is often called "The Museum Period" or "The Museum Age"). While a large number of American museums, both natural history museums and art museums alike, were founded with the intention of focusing on the scientific discoveries and artistic developments in North America, a large number of moved to emulate their European counterparts in certain ways (including the development of Classical collections from ancient Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, and Rome). Drawing on Michel Foucault's concept of liberal government, Tony Bennett has suggested the development of more modern nineteenth century museums was part of new strategies by Western governments to produce a citizenry that, rather than be directed by coercive or external forces, monitored and regulated its own conduct. To incorporate the masses in this strategy, the private space of museums that previously had been restricted and socially exclusive were made public. As such, objects and artifacts, particularly those related to high culture, became instruments for these "new tasks of social management." Universities became the primary centres for innovative research in the United States well before the start of the Second World War. Nevertheless, museums to this day contribute new knowledge to their fields and continue to build collections that are useful for both research and display.

The late twentieth century witnessed intense debate concerning the repatriation of religious, ethnic, and cultural artefacts housed in museum collections. In the United States, several Native American tribes and advocacy groups have lobbied extensively for the repatriation of sacred objects and the reburial of human remains. In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which required federal agencies and federally funded institutions to repatriate Native American "cultural items" to culturally affiliate tribes and groups. Similarly, a large number of European museum collections often contain objects and cultural artefacts acquired through imperialism and colonization. Some historians and scholars have criticised the British Museum for its possession of rare antiquities from Egypt, Greece, and the Middle East.


The roles associated with the management a museum largely depend on the size of the institution, but every museum has a hierarchy of governance with a Board of Trustees serving at the top. The Director is next in command and works with the Board to establish and fulfil the museum's mission statement and to ensure that the museum is accountable to the public. Together, the Board and the Director establish a system of governance that's guided by policies that set standards for the institution. Documents that set these standards include an institutional or strategic plan, institutional code of ethics, bylaws, and collections policy. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has additionally formulated a series of standards and best practises that help guide the management of museums. Unfortunately, a large number of small, local museums lack this guidance after accreditation with AAM requires a museum to operate on an annual budget of at least $25,000.

  • Board of Trustees - The board governs the museum and is responsible for ensuring the museum is financially and ethically sound. They set standards and policies for the museum. Board members are often involved in fundraising aspects of the museum and represent the institution.
  • Director- The director is the face of the museum to the professional and public community. They communicate closely with the board to guide and govern the museum. They work with the staff to ensure the museum runs smoothly.

Museum governance is grounded by a mission statement which states the purpose of the museum, and while a museum seeks to adhere consistently to its mission, this statement is subject to revision as the institution evolves over the years. A vision statement indicates where the museum wishes to be in the future and provides a framework for growth. A values statement explains the beliefs of the museum.

According to museum professionals Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland, "Administration of the organisation requires skill in conflict management, interpersonal relations, budget management and monitoring, and staff supervision and evaluation. Managers must additionally set legal and ethical standards and maintain involvement in the museum profession."

Various positions within the museum carry out the policies established by the Board and the Director. All museum employees should work together toward the museum's institutional goal. Here is a list of positions commonly found at museums:

  • Curator – Curators are the intellectual drivers behind exhibits. They research the museum's collection and topic of focus, develop exhibition themes, and publish their research aimed at either a public or academic audience. Larger museums have curators in a variety of areas. For example, The Henry Ford has a Curator of Transportation, a Curator of Public Life, a Curator of Decorative Arts, etc.
  • Collections Management - Collections managers are primarily responsible for the hands-on care, movement, and storage of objects. They are responsible for the accessibility of collections and collections policy.
  • Registrar – Registrars are the primary record keepers of the collection. They insure that objects are properly accessioned, documented, insured, and, when appropriate, loaned. Ethical and legal issues related to the collection are dealt with by registrars. Along with collections managers, they uphold the museum's collections policy.
  • Educator - Museum educators are responsible for educating museum audiences. Their duties can include designing tours and public programmes for children and adults, teacher training, developing classroom and continuing education resources, community outreach, and volunteer management. Educators not only work with the public, but additionally collaborate with additional museum staff on exhibition and programme development to ensure that exhibits are audience-friendly.
  • Exhibit Designer – Exhibit designers are in charge of the layout and physical installation of exhibits. They create a conceptual design and then bring it to fruition in the physical space.
  • Conservator – Conservators focus on object restoration. More than preserving the object in its present state, they seek to stabilise and repair artefacts to the condition of an earlier era.

Other positions commonly found at museums include: building operator, public programming staff, photographer, librarian, archivist, groundskeeper, volunteer coordinator, preparator, security staff, development officer, membership officer, business officer, gift shop manager, public relations staff, and graphic designer.

At smaller museums, staff members often fulfil multiple roles. Some of these positions are excluded entirely or might be carried out by a contractor when necessary.

Exhibition histories

An exhibition history is a listing of exhibitions for an institution, artist, or a work of art. Exhibition histories generally include the name of the host institution, the title of the exhibition and the opening and closing dates of the exhibition.

The following is a list of major institutions that have complete or substantial exhibition histories that are available online.

Museum planning

The design of museums has evolved throughout history. Notwithstanding museum planning involves planning the actual mission of the museum along with planning the space that the collection of the museum will be housed in. Intentional museum planning has its beginnings with the museum founder and librarian John Cotton Dana. Dana detailed the process of founding the Newark Museum in a series of books in the early twentieth century so that additional museum founders could plan their museums. Dana suggested that potential founders of museums should form a committee first, and reach out to the community for input as to what the museum should supply or do for the community. According to Dana, museums should be planned according to community's needs:

"The new museum…does not build on an educational superstition. It examines its community's life first, and then straightway bends its energies to supplying a few the material which that community needs, and to making that material's presence widely known, and to presenting it in such a way as to secure it for the maximum of use and the maximum efficiency of that use."

The way that museums are planned and designed vary according to what collections they house, but overall, they adhere to planning a space that's easily accessed by the public and easily displays the chosen artifacts. These elements of planning have their roots with John Cotton Dana, who was perturbed at the historical placement of museums outside of cities, and in areas that weren't easily accessed by the public, in gloomy European style buildings.

Questions of accessibility continue to the present day. Many museums strive to make their buildings, programming, ideas, and collections more publicly accessible than in the past. Not every museum is participating in this trend, but that seems to be the trajectory of museums in the twenty-first century with its emphasis on inclusiveness. One pioneering way museums are attempting to make their collections more accessible is with open storage. Most of a museum's collection is typically locked away in a secure location to be preserved, but the result is most people never get to see the vast majority of collections. The Brooklyn Museum's Luce Center for American Art practises this open storage where the public can view items not on display, albeit with minimal interpretation. The practise of open storage is all part of an ongoing debate in the museum field of the role objects play and how accessible they should be.

In terms of modern museums, interpretive museums, as opposed to art museums, have missions reflecting curatorial guidance through the subject matter which now include content in the form of images, audio and visual effects, and interactive exhibits. Museum creation begins with a museum plan, created through a museum planning process. The process involves identifying the museum's vision and the resources, organisation and experiences needed to realise this vision. A feasibility study, analysis of comparable facilities, and an interpretive plan are all developed as part of the museum planning process.

Some museum experiences have quite few or no artefacts and don't necessarily call themselves museums, and their mission reflects this; the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, being notable examples where there are few artifacts, but strong, memorable storeys are told or information is interpreted. In contrast, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. uses a large number of artefacts in their memorable exhibitions.

Financial uses of museums

In recent years, a few cities have turned to museums as an avenue for economic development or rejuvenation. This is particularly true in the case of postindustrial cities. Examples of museums fulfilling these economic roles exist around the world. For example, the spectacular Guggenheim Bilbao was built in Bilbao, Spain in a move by the Basque regional government to revitalise the dilapidated old port area of that city. The Basque government agreed to pay $100 million for the construction of the museum, a price tag that caused a large number of Bilbaoans to protest against the project. Nonetheless, the gamble has appeared to pay off financially for the city, with over 1.1 million people visiting the museum in 2015. Key to this is the large demographic of foreign visitors to the museum, with 63 percent of the visitors residing outside of Spain and thus feeding foreign investment straight into Bilbao. A similar project to that undertaken in Bilbao was additionally built on the disused shipyards of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Titanic Belfast was built for the same price as the Guggenheim Bilbao (and which was incidentally built by the same architect, Frank Gehry) in time for the hundredth anniversary of the Belfast-built ship's maiden voyage in 2012. Initially expecting modest visitor numbers of 425,000 annually, first year visitor numbers reached over 800,000, with almost sixty percent coming from outside Northern Ireland. In the United States, similar projects include the 81, 000 square foot Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia and The Broad Museum in Los Angeles.

Museums being used as a cultural economic driver by city and local governments has proven to be controversial among museum activists and local populations alike. Public protests have occurred in numerous cities which have tried to employ museums in this way. While most subside if a museum is successful, as happened in Bilbao, others continue especially if a museum struggles to attract visitors. The Taubman Museum is an example of a museum which cost a lot (eventually $66 million) but attained little success, and continues to have a low endowment for its size. Some museum activists additionally see this method of museum use as a deeply flawed model for such institutions. Steven Conn, one such museum proponent, believes that "to ask museums to solve our political and economic problems is to set them up for inevitable failure and to set us (the visitor) up for inevitable disappointment."

Exhibition design

Exhibit in Indonesia Museum, Jakarta, displaying the traditional costumes of Indonesian ethnic groups, such as Balinese and East Java.

Most mid-size and large museums employ exhibit design staff for graphic and environmental design projects, including exhibitions. In addition to traditional 2-D and 3-D designers and architects, these staff departments might include audio-visual specialists, software designers, audience research and evaluation specialists, writers, editors, and preparators or art handlers. These staff specialists might additionally be charged with supervising contract design or production services. The exhibit design process builds on the interpretive plan for an exhibit, determining the most effective, engaging and appropriate methods of communicating a message or telling a story. The process will often mirror the architectural process or schedule, moving from conceptual plan, through schematic design, design development, contract document, fabrication, and installation. Museums of all sizes might additionally contract the outside services of exhibit fabrication businesses.

Exhibition design has as multitude of strategies, theories, and methods but two that embody much of the theory and dialogue surrounding exhibition design are the metonymy technique and the use of authentic artefacts to provide the historical narrative. Metonymy, or "the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant," is a technique used by a large number of museums but few as heavily and as influentially as Holocaust museums.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., for example, employs this technique in its shoe exhibition. Simply a pile of decaying leather shoes piled against a bare, grey concrete wall the exhibit relies heavily on the emotional, sensory response the viewer will naturally through this use metonymic technique. This exhibition design intentionally signifies metonymically the nameless and victims themselves. This metaphysical link to the victims through the deteriorating and aged shoes stands as a surviving vestige of the individual victim. This technique, employed properly, can be a quite powerful one as it plays off the real life experiences of the viewer while evoking the equally unique memory of the victim. Metonymy, however, Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich argues, isn't without its own problems. Hansen-Glucklich explains, "...when victims' possessions are collected according to type and displayed en masse they stand metonymically for the victims themselves ... Such a use of metonymy contributes to the dehumanisation of the victims as they're reduced to a heap of indistinguishable objects and their individuality subsumed by an aesthetic of anonymity and excess."

While a powerful technique, Hansen-Glucklick points out that when used en masse the metonym suffers as the memory and suffering of the individual is lost in the refrain of the whole. While at times juxtaposed, the alternative technique of the use of authentic objects is seen the same exhibit mentioned above. The use of authentic artefacts is employed by most, if not all, museums but the degree to which and the intention can vary greatly. The basic idea behind exhibiting authentic artefacts is to provide not only legitimacy to the exhibit's historical narrative but, at times, to help create the narrative as well. The theory behind this technique is to exhibit artefacts in a neutral manner to orchestrate and narrate the historic narrative through, ideally, the provenance of the artefacts themselves.

While albeit necessary to a few degree in any museum repertoire, the use of authentic artefacts can not only be misleading but as equally problematic as the aforementioned metonymic technique. Hansen-Glucklick explains, "The danger of such a strategy lies in the fact that by claiming to offer the remnants of the past to the spectator, the museum creates the illusion of standing before a complete picture. The suggestion is that if enough details and fragments are collected and displayed, a coherent and total truth concerning the past will emerge, visible and comprehensible. The museum attempts, in additional words, to archive the unachievable." While any exhibit benefits from the legitimacy given by authentic objects or artifacts, the temptation must be protected against in order to avoid relying solely on the artefacts themselves. A well designed exhibition should employ objects and artefacts as a foundation to the narrative but not as a crutch; a lesson any conscientious curator would be well to keep in mind.

Some museum scholars have even begun to question whether museums truly need artefacts at all. Historian Steven Conn provocatively asks this question, suggesting that there are fewer objects in all museums now, as they have been progressively replaced by interactive technology. As educational programming has grown in museums, mass collections of objects have receded in importance. This isn't necessarily a negative development. Dorothy Canfield Fisher observed that the reduction in objects has pushed museums to grow from institutions that artlessly showcased their a large number of artefacts (in the style of early cabinets of curiosity) to instead "thinning out" the objects presented "for a general view of any given subject or period, and to put the rest away in archive-storage-rooms, where they can be consulted by students, the only people who really needed to see them." This phenomenon of disappearing objects is especially present in science museums like the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, which have a high visitorship of school-aged children who might benefit more from hands-on interactive technology than reading a label beside an artifact.


Types of museums vary, from large institutions, covering a large number of of the categories below, to quite small institutions focusing on a specific subject, location, or a notable person. Categories include: fine arts, applied arts, craft, archaeology, anthropology and ethnology, biography, history, cultural history, science, technology, children's museums, natural history, botanical and zoological gardens. Within these categories, a large number of museums specialise further, e.g. museums of modern art, folk art, local history, military history, aviation history, philately, agriculture, or geology. An Additional type of museum is an encyclopaedic museum. Commonly referred to as a universal museum, encyclopaedic museums have collections representative of the world and typically include art, science, history, and cultural history. The type and size of a museum is reflected in its collection. A museum normally houses a core collection of important selected objects in its field.

Architectural museums

Architectural museums are institutions dedicated to educating visitors about architecture and a variety of related fields, often including urban design, landscape design, interior decoration, engineering, and historic preservation. Additionally, museums of art or history at times dedicate a portion of the museum or a permanent exhibit to a particular facet or era of architecture and design, though this doesn't technically constitute a proper museum of architecture.

The International Confederation of Architectural Museums (ICAM) is the principal worldwide organisation for architectural museums. Members consist of almost all large institutions specialising in this field and additionally those offering permanent exhibitions or dedicated galleries.

Architecture museums are in fact a less common type in the United States, due partly to the difficulty of curating a collection which could adequately represent or embody the large scale subject matter.

The National Building Museum in Washington D.C., a privately run institution created by a mandate of Congress in 1980, is the nation's most prominent public museum of architecture. In addition to its architectural exhibits and collections, the museum seeks to educate the public about engineering and design. The NBM is a unique museum in that the building in which it is housed—the historic Pension Building built 1882-87—is itself a sort of curated collection piece which teaches about architecture. An Additional large scale museum of architecture is the Chicago Athenaeum, an international Museum of Architecture and Design, founded in 1988. The Athenaeum differs from the National Building Museum not only in its global scope—it has offices in Italy, Greece, Germany, and Ireland—but additionally in its broader topical scope, which encompasses smaller modern appliances and graphic design.

A quite different and much smaller example of an American architectural museum is the Schifferstadt Architectural Museum in Frederick, Maryland. Similar to the National Building Museum, the building of the Schifferstadt is a historic structure, built in 1758, and therefore additionally an embodiment of historic preservation and restoration. In addition to instructing the public about its eighteenth century German-American style architecture, the Schifferstadt additionally interprets the broader contextual history of its origins, including topics such as the French and Indian War and the arrival of the region's earliest German American immigrants.

Museums of architecture are devoted primarily to disseminating knowledge about architecture, but there's considerable room for expanding into additional related genres such as design, city planning, landscape, infrastructure, and even the traditional study of history or art, which can provide useful context for any architectural exhibit.

Archaeology museums

Archaeology museums specialise in the display of archaeological artifacts. Many are in the open air, such as the Agora of Athens and the Roman Forum. Others display artefacts found in archaeological sites inside buildings. Some, such as the Western Australian Museum, exhibit maritime archaeological materials. These appear in its Shipwreck Galleries, a wing of the Maritime Museum. This Museum has additionally developed a 'museum-without-walls' through a series of underwater wreck trails.

Art museums

Viewers of the Doni Tondo by Michelangelo in the Uffizi Gallery.

An art museum, additionally known as an art gallery, is a space for the exhibition of art, usually in the form of art objects from the visual arts, primarily paintings, illustrations, and sculptures. Collections of drawings and old master prints are often not displayed on the walls, but kept in a print room. There might be collections of applied art, including ceramics, metalwork, furniture, artist's books, and additional types of objects. Video art is often screened.

The first publicly owned museum in Europe was the Amerbach-Cabinet in Basel, originally a private collection sold to the city in 1661 and public after 1671 (now Kunstmuseum Basel). The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford opened on 24 May 1683 as the world's first university art museum. Its first building was built in 1678–1683 to house the cabinet of curiosities Elias Ashmole gave Oxford University in 1677. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence was initially conceived as offices for the Florentine civil service (hence the name), but evolved into a display place for a large number of of the paintings and sculpture collected by the Medici family or commissioned by them. After the house of Medici was extinguished, the art treasures remained in Florence, forming one of the first modern museums. The gallery had been open to visitors by request after the sixteenth century, and in 1765 it was officially opened to the public. An Additional early public museum was the British Museum in London, which opened to the public in 1759. It was a "universal museum" with quite varied collections covering art, applied art, archaeology, anthropology, history, and science, and what's now the British Library. The science collections, library, paintings, and modern sculptures have after been found separate homes, leaving history, archaeology, non-European and pre-Renaissance art, and prints and drawings. Underwater museum is another type of art museum where the Artificial reef are placed to promote marine life. Cancun Underwater Museum, or the Subaquatic Sculpture Museum, in Mexico is the largest underwater museum in the world. There are now about 500 images in the underwater museum. The last eleven images were added in September 2013.

The specialised art museum is considered a fairly modern invention, the first being the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg which was established in 1764.

The Louvre in Paris was established in 1793, soon after the French Revolution when the royal treasures were declared for the people. The Czartoryski Museum in Kraków was established in 1796 by Princess Izabela Czartoryska. This showed the beginnings of removing art collections from the private domain of aristocracy and the wealthy into the public sphere, where they were seen as sites for educating the masses in taste and cultural refinement.

Biographical museums

Biographical museums are dedicated to items relating to the life of a single person or group of people, and might additionally display the items collected by their subjects throughout their lifetimes. Some biographical museums are located in a house or additional site associated with the lives of their subjects (e.g. Sagamore Hill which contains the Theodore Roosevelt Museum or The Keats-Shelley Memorial House in the Piazza di Spagna, Rome). Some homes of famous people house famous collections in the sphere of the owner's expertise or interests in addition to collections of their biographical material; one such example is The Wellington Museum, Apsley House, London, home of the Duke of Wellington, which, in addition to biographical memorabilia of the Duke's life, additionally houses his collection world-famous paintings. Other biographical museums, such as a large number of of the American presidential libraries, are housed in specially constructed buildings.

Car museums

As time goes by, more and more museums dedicated to classic cars of yesteryear are opening. Many of the old classics come to life once the original owners pass away. Some are not-for-profit while others are run as a private business.

Children's museums

The Buell Children's Museum in Pueblo, Colorado was ranked #2 children's art museum in the United States by Child Magazine.

Children's museums are institutions that provide exhibits and programmes to stimulate informal learning experiences for children. In contrast with traditional museums that typically have a hands-off policy regarding exhibits, children's museums feature interactive exhibits that are designed to be manipulated by children. The theory behind such exhibits is that activity can be as educational as instruction, especially in early childhood. Most children's museums are nonprofit organizations, and a large number of are run by volunteers or by quite small professional staffs.

The Brooklyn Children's Museum was established in 1899 by the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. It is often regarded as the first children's museum in the United States. The idea behind the Brooklyn Children's Museum implicitly acknowledged that existing American museums weren't designed with children in mind. Although museums at the turn of the century viewed themselves as institutions of public education, their exhibits were often not made accessible for children, who might have struggled with simple design features like the height of exhibit cases, or the language of interpretive labels. Furthermore, touching objects was often prohibited, limiting visitors' ability to interact with museum objects.

The founders of the Brooklyn Children's Museum were concerned with education and realised that no additional institution had attempted to establish "a Museum that will be of especial value and interest to young people between the ages of six and twenty years." Their goal was to gain children's interest and "to stimulate their powers of observation and reflection" as well as to "illustrate by collections of pictures, cartoons, charts, models, maps and so on, each of the important branches of knowledge which is taught in elementary schools."

Anna Billings Gallup, the museum's curator from 1904-1937, encouraged a learning technique that allowed children to "discover" information by themselves through touching and examining objects. Visitors to the museum were able to compare the composition, weight, and hardness of minerals, learn to use a microscope to examine natural objects, and build their own collections of natural objects to be displayed in a special room of the museum. In addition to emphasis on allowing interaction with objects, Gallup additionally encouraged learning through play. She believed learning at the Brooklyn Children's Museum should be "pure fun", and to this end developed nature clubs, held field trips, brought live animals into the museum, and hired gallery instructors to lead children in classification games about animals, shells, and minerals. Other children's museums of the early twentieth century used similar techniques that emphasised learning through experience.

Children's museums often emphasise experiential learning through museum interactives, at times leading them to have quite few or no physical collection items. The Brooklyn Children's Museum and additional early children's museums grew out of the tradition of natural history museums, object-centered institutions. Over the course of the twentieth century, the children's museums slowly began to discard their objects in favour of more interactive exhibits. While children's museums are a more extreme case, it is important to note that throughout the twentieth century, more and more museums have elected to display fewer objects and offer more interpretation than museums of the nineteenth century. Some scholars argue that objects, while once critical to the definition of a museum, are no longer considered vital to a large number of institutions because they're no longer necessary to fulfil the roles we expect museums to serve as museums focus more on programs, education, and their visitors.

After the Brooklyn Children's Museum opened in 1899, additional American museums followed suit by opening small children's sections of their institutions designed with children in mind and equipped with interactive activities, such as the Smithsonian's children's room opened in 1901. The Brooklyn Children's Museum additionally inspired additional children's museums either housed separately or even developed completely independently of parent museums, like the Boston Children's Museum (1913), The Children's Museum of Detroit Public Schools (1915), and the Children's Museum of Indianapolis (1925). The number of children's museums in the United States continued to grow over the course of the twentieth century, with over 40 museums opened by the 1960s and more than 70 children's museums opened to the public between 1990 and 1997.

International professional organisations of children's museums include the Association of Children's Museums (ACM), which was formed in 1962 as the American Association of Youth Museums (AAYM) and in 2007 counted 341 member institutions in 23 countries, and The Hands On! Europe Association of Children's Museum (HO!E), established in 1994, with member institutions in 34 countries as of 2007. Many museums that are members of ACM offer reciprocal memberships, allowing members of one museum to visit all the others for free.

Design museums

A design museum is a museum with a focus on product, industrial, graphic, fashion, and architectural design. Many design museums were founded as museums for applied arts or decorative arts and started only in the late twentieth century to gather design.

Diachronic versus synchronic

It might at times be useful do distinguish between diachronic and synchronic museums. According to University of Florida's Professor Eric Kilgerman, "While a museum in which a particular narrative unfolds within its halls is diachronic, those museums that limit their space to a single experience are called synchronic."

Encyclopedic museums

Encyclopedic museums are large, mostly national, institutions that offer visitors a plethora of information on a variety of subjects that tell both local and global stories. The aim of encyclopaedic museums is to provide examples of each classification available for a field of knowledge. "With three percent of the world's population, or nearly 200 million people, living outside the country of their birth, encyclopaedic museums play an especially important role in the building of civil society. They encourage curiosity about the world." James Cuno, President and Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, along with Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, are two of the most outspoken museum professionals who support encyclopaedic museums. They state that encyclopaedic museums are advantageous for society by exposing museum visitors to a wide variety of cultures, engendering a sense of a shared human history. Some scholars and archaeologists, however, argue against encyclopaedic museums because they remove cultural objects from their original cultural setting, losing their context.

Ethnology or ethnographic museums

Indonesia Museum in TMII built in Balinese architecture, is an ethnology museum displaying various artefacts and way of life of ethnic groups in Indonesia.

Ethnology museums are a type of museum that focus on studying, collecting, preserving and displaying artefacts and objects concerning ethnology and anthropology. This type of museum usually were built in countries possessing diverse ethnic groups or significant numbers of ethnic minorities. An example is the Ozurgeti History Museum, an ethnographic museum in Georgia.

Historic house museums

Within the category of history museums, historic house museums are the most numerous. The earliest projects for preserving historic homes began in the 1850s under the direction of individuals concerned with the public good and the preservation of American history, especially centred on the first president. Since the establishment of America's first historic site at Washington's Revolutionary headquarters at Hasbrouck House in New York State, Americans have found a penchant for preserving similar historical structures. The establishment of historic house museums increased in popularity through the 1970s and 1980s as the Revolutionary bicentennial set off a wave of patriotism and alerted Americans to the destruction of their physical heritage. The tradition of restoring homes of the past and designating them as museums draws on the English custom of preserving ancient buildings and monuments. Initially homes were considered worthy of saving because of their associations with important individuals, usually of the elite classes, like former presidents, authors, or businessmen. Increasingly, Americans have fought to preserve structures characteristic of a more typical American past that represents the lives of everyday people including minorities.

The queen's chamber in Petit Trianon, former residence of Marie Antoinette.

While historic house museums compose the largest section within the historic museum category, they usually operate with small staffs and on limited budgets. Many are run entirely by volunteers and often don't meet the professional standards established by the museum industry. An independent survey conducted by Peggy Coats in 1990 revealed that 65 percent of historic house museums didn't have a full-time staff and 19 to 27 percent of historic homes employed only one full-time employee. Furthermore, the majority of these museums operated on less than $50,000 annually. The survey additionally revealed a significant disparity in the amount of visitors between local house museums and national sites. While museums like Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg were visited by over one million tourists a year, more than fifty percent of historic house museums received less than 5,000 visitors per year.

These museums are additionally unique in that the actual structure belongs to the museum collection as a historical object. While a few historic home museums are fortunate to possess a collection containing a large number of of the original furnishings once present in the home, a large number of face the challenge of displaying a collection consistent with the historical structure. Some museums choose to gather pieces original to the period while not original to the house. Others, fill the home with replicas of the original pieces reconstructed with the help of historic records. Still additional museums adopt a more aesthetic approach and use the homes to display the architecture and artistic objects. Because historic homes have often existed through different generations and have been passed on from one family to another, volunteers and professionals additionally must decide which historical narrative to tell their visitors. Some museums grapple with this issue by displaying different eras in the home's history within different rooms or sections of the structure. Others choose one particular narrative, usually the one deemed most historically significant, and restore the home to that particular period.

History museums

The golden funerary mask of Tutankhamun, Egyptian Museum of Cairo.

History museums cover the knowledge of history and its relevance to the present and future. Some cover specialised curatorial aspects of history or a particular locality; others are more general. Such museums contain a wide range of objects, including documents, artefacts of all kinds, art, archaeological objects. Antiquities museums specialise in more archaeological findings.

A common type of history museum is a historic house. A historic house might be a building of special architectural interest, the birthplace or home of a famous person, or a house with an interesting history. Local and national governments often create museums to their history. The United States has a large number of national museums for historical topics, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Historic sites can additionally serve as museums, such as the museum at Ford's Theater in Washington D.C. The U.S. National Park Service defines a historic site as the "location of a significant event, a prehistoric or historic occupation or activity, or a building or structure, whether standing, ruined, or vanished, where the location itself possesses historic, cultural, or archaeological value regardless of the value of any existing structure."

Iron bed in torture room at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Historic sites can additionally mark public crimes, such as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia or Robben Island, South Africa. Similar to museums focused on public crimes, museums attached to memorials of public crimes often contain a history component, as is the case at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. History museums might concern more general crimes and atrocities, such as American slavery. Often these museums are connected to a particular example, such as the proposed International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, which will treat slavery as an institution with a particular focus on slavery in Charleston and South Carolina's Lowcountry. Museums in cities like Charleston, South Carolina must interact with a broader heritage tourism industry where the history of the majority population is traditionally privileged over the minority.

Despite efforts to tell multicultural histories, history museums have a problem with diversity and inclusion. Most museums in the United States that are national in scope such as the Smithsonian often focus solely on white upper class heterosexual male history and ignore most others. This has caused a large number of specialised museums to be established such as the National LGBT Museum in New York City and the National Women's History Museum planned for the National Mall. The majority of museums across the country that tell state and local history additionally follow this example. Women are one of the worst examples of this, with less than ten percent of historic sites devoted to women. Other museums have a problem interpreting colonial histories, especially at Native American historic sites. Notwithstanding museums such as the National Museum of the American Indian and Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways in Michigan are working to share authority with indigenous groups and decolonize museums.

Another type of history museum is a living history museum. A living history museum is an outdoor museum featuring reenactors in period costume, and historic or reconstructed buildings. Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum in Virginia that represents the colony on the eve of the American Revolution in the eighteenth century. The 301 acre historic area includes hundreds of buildings, in their original locations, but mostly reconstructed.

Living history museums

Narayanhity Palace Museum (formerly Narayanhiti Royal Palace) in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Living history museums combine historic architecture, material culture, and costumed interpretation with natural and cultural landscapes to create an immersive learning environment. These museums include the collection, preservation or interpretation of material culture, traditional skills, and historical processes. Recreated historical settings simulating past time periods can offer the visitor a sense of travelling back in time. They are a type of open-air museum.

Two main interpretation styles dominate the visitor experience at living history museums: first and third person interpretation. In first person interpretation, interpreters assume the persona, including the speech patterns, behaviors, views, and dress of a historical figure from the museum's designated time period. In third person interpretation, the interpreters openly acknowledge themselves to be a contemporary of the museum visitor. The interpreter isn't restricted by being in-character and can speak to the visitor about society from a modern-day perspective.

The beginnings of the living history museum can be traced back to 1873 with the opening of the Skansen Museum near Stockholm, Sweden. The museum's founder, Artur Hazelius, began the museum by using his personal collection of buildings and additional cultural materials of pre-industrial society. This museum began as an open-air museum and, by 1891, had several farm buildings in which visitors could see exhibits and where guides demonstrated crafts and tools.

For years, living history museums were relatively nonexistent outside of Scandinavia, though a few military garrisons in North America used a few living history techniques. Living history museums in the United States were initially established by entrepreneurs, such as John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford, and after then have proliferated within the museum world. Some of the earliest living history museums in the United States include Colonial Williamsburg (1926), Greenfield Village (1929), Conner Prairie Pioneer Settlement (1930s), Old Sturbridge Village (1946), and Plimoth Plantation (1947). Many living history farms and similar farm and agricultural museums have united under an association known as the Association for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM).

Maritime museums

Maritime museums are museums that specialise in the presentation of maritime history, culture, or archaeology. They explore the relationship between societies and certain bodies of water. Just as there's a wide variety of museum types, there are additionally a large number of different types of maritime museums. First, as mentioned above, maritime museums can be primarily archaeological. These museums focus on the interpretation and preservation of shipwrecks and additional artefacts recovered from a maritime setting. A second type is the maritime history museum, dedicated to educating the public about humanity's maritime past. Examples are the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Mystic Seaport. Military-focused maritime museums are a third variety, of which the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and Battleship IOWA Museum are examples.

Medical museums

Medical museums today are largely an extinct subtype of museum with a few notable exceptions, such as the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in Glasgow, Scotland. The origins of the medical museum date back to Renaissance cabinets of curiosities which often featured displays of human skeletal material and additional materia medica. Apothecaries and physicians collected specimens as a part of their professional activities and to increase their professional status among their peers. As the medical profession placed greater emphasis on teaching and the practise of materia medica in the late sixteenth century, medical collections became a fundamental component of a medical student's education. New developments in preserving soft tissue samples long term in spirits appeared in the seventeenth century, and by the mid-18th century physicians like John Hunter were using personal anatomical collections as teaching tools. By the early nineteenth century, a large number of hospitals and medical colleges in Great Britain had built sizable teaching collections. In the United States, the nation's first hospital, the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, already had a collection of plaster casts and crayon drawings of the stages of pregnancy as early as 1762.

Medical museums functioned as an integral part of medical students education through the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. Dry and wet anatomical specimens, casts, drawings, oil paintings, and photographs provided a means for medical students to compare healthy anatomical specimens with abnormal, or diseased organs. Museums, like the Mütter, added medical instruments and equipment to their collections to preserve and teach the history of the medical profession. By the 1920s, medical museums had reached their nadir and began to wane in their importance as institutes of medical knowledge and training. Medical teaching shifted towards training medical students in hospitals and laboratories, and over the course of the twentieth century most medical museums disappeared from the museum horizon. The few surviving medical museums, like the Mütter Museum, have managed to survive by broadening their mission of preserving and disseminating medical knowledge to include the general public, rather than exclusively catering to medical professionals.

Memorial museums

Memorial museums are museums dedicated both to educating the public about and commemorating a specific historic event, usually involving mass suffering. The concept gained traction throughout the twentieth century as a response to the numerous and well publicised mass atrocities committed throughout that century. The events commemorated by memorial museums tend to involve mostly civilian victims who died under "morally problematic circumstances" that can't easily be interpreted as heroic. There are frequently unresolved issues concerning the identity, culpability, and punishment of the perpetrators of these killings and memorial museums often play an active research role aimed at benefiting both the victims and those prosecuting the perpetrators.

Today there are numerous prominent memorial museums including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Toul Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa, and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City. Although the concept of a memorial museum is largely a product of the twentieth century, there are museums of this type that focus on events from additional periods, an example being the House of Slaves (Maisons des Esclaves) in Senegal which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 and acts as a museum and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade.

Memorial museums differ from traditional history museums in several key ways, most notably in their dual mission to incorporate both a moral framework for and contextual explanations of an event. While traditional history museums tend to be in neutral institutional settings, memorial museums are quite often situated at the scene of the atrocity they seek to commemorate. Memorial museums additionally often have close connexions with, and advocate for, a specific clientele who have a special relationship to the event or its victims, such as family members or survivors, and regularly hold politically significant special events. Unlike a large number of traditional history museums, memorial museums almost always have a distinct, overt political and moral message with direct ties to contemporary society. The following mission statement of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is typical in its focus on commemoration, education and advocacy:

"The museum's primary mission is to advance and disseminate knowledge about this unprecedented tragedy; to preserve the memory of those who suffered; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy."

Military and war museums

Military museums specialise in military histories; they're often organised from a national point of view, where a museum in a particular country will have displays organised around conflicts in which that country has taken part. They typically include displays of weapons and additional military equipment, uniforms, wartime propaganda, and exhibits on civilian life throughout wartime, and decorations, among others. A military museum might be dedicated to a particular or area, such as the Imperial War Museum Duxford for military aircraft, Deutsches Panzermuseum for tanks, the Lange Max Museum for the Western Front (World War I), the International Spy Museum for espionage, The National World War I Museum for World War I, the D-Day Paratroopers Historical Center (Normandy) for WWII airborne, or more generalist, such as the Canadian War Museum or the Musée de l'Armée.

Mobile museums

Mobile museum is a term applied to museums that make exhibitions from a vehicle- such as a van. Some institutions, such as St. Vital Historical Society and the Walker Art Center, use the term to refer to a portion of their collection that travels to sites away from the museum for educational purposes. Other mobile museums have no "home site", and use travel as their exclusive means of presentation. University of Louisiana in Lafayette has additionally created a mobile museum as part of the graduate programme in History. The project is called Museum on the Move.

Natural history museums

Museums of natural history and natural science typically exhibit work of the natural world. The focus lies on nature and culture. Exhibitions educate the public on natural history, dinosaurs, zoology, oceanography, anthropology, and more. Evolution, environmental issues, and biodiversity are major areas in natural science museums. Notable museums include the Natural History Museum in London, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in Oxford, the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle in Paris, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Open-air museums

The open-air museum of King Oscar II at Bygdøy near Oslo in the museum guide of 1888. The World's first open-air museum was founded in 1881.
An old farmhouse at the Salzburger Freilichtmuseum in Großgmain near Salzburg.

Open-air museums collect and re-erect old buildings at large outdoor sites, usually in settings of re-created landscapes of the past. The first one was King Oscar II's collection near Oslo in Norway, opened in 1881. In 1907, it was incorporated into the Norsk Folkemuseum. In 1891, inspired by a visit to the open-air museum in Oslo, Artur Hazelius founded the Skansen in Stockholm, which became the model for subsequent open-air museums in Northern and Eastern Europe, and eventually in additional parts of the world. Most open-air museums are located in regions where wooden architecture prevail, as wooden structures might be translocated without substantial loss of authenticity. A more recent but related idea is realised in ecomuseums, which originated in France.

Pop-up museums

A concept developed in the 1990s, the pop-up museum is generally defined as a short term institution existing in a temporary space. These temporary museums are finding increasing favour among more progressive museum professionals as a means of direct community involvement with objects and exhibition. Often, the pop-up concept relies solely on visitors to provide both the objects on display and the accompanying labels with the professionals or institution providing only the theme of the pop-up and the space in which to display the objects, an example of shared historical authority. Due to the flexibility of the pop-up museums and their rejection of traditional structure, even these latter provisions need not be supplied by an institution; in a few cases the themes have been chosen collectively by a committee of interested participants while exhibitions designated as pop-ups have been mounted in places as varied as community centres and even a walk-in closet. Some examples of pop-up museums include:

  • Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH), which currently hosts collaborative Pop Up Museums around Santa Cruz County.
  • Museum of New Art (MONA)- founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1996 this contemporary art museum is generally acknowledged to be the pioneer of the concept of the pop-up museum.
  • The Pop-Up Museum of Queer History- a series of pop-up museum events held at various sites across the United States focusing on the history and storeys of local LGBT communities.
  • Denver Community Museum- a pop-up museum that existed for nine months throughout 2008-9, located in downtown Denver, Colorado.
  • Museum of Motherhood, currently located on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Has extended past its original close date & is seeking a permanent home.

Science museums

Science museums and technology centres or technology museums revolve around scientific achievements, and marvels and their history. To explain complicated inventions, a combination of demonstrations, interactive programmes and thought-provoking media are used. Some museums might have exhibits on topics such as computers, aviation, railway museums, physics, astronomy, and the animal kingdom. The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is a quite popular museum.

Science museums traditionally emphasise cultural heritage through objects of intrinsic value, echoes of the 'curiosity cabinets' of the Renaissance period. These early museums of science represented a fascination with collecting which emerged in the fifteenth century from 'an attempt to manage the empirical explosion of materials that wider dissemination of ancient texts, increased travel, voyages of discovery, and more systematic forms of communication and exchange had produced. Science museums were institutions of authoritative, uncontestable, knowledge, places of 'collecting, seeing and knowing, places where "anybody" might come and survey the evidence of science. Dinosaurs, extensive invertebrate and vertebrate collections, plant taxonomies, and so on - these were the orders of the day. By the nineteenth century, science museums had flourished, and with it 'the capacity of exhibitionary representation to render the world as visible and ordered... part of the instantiation of wider senses of scientific and political certainty' (MacDonald, 1998: 11). By the twentieth century, museums of science had built 'on their earlier emphasis on public education to present themselves as experts in the mediation between the obscure world of science and that of the public.

Diplodocus fossil exhibit in Minnesota Science Museum.

The nineteenth century additionally brought a proliferation of science museums with roots in technical and industrial heritage museums. Ordinarily, visitors individually interact with exhibits, by a combination of manipulating, reading, pushing, pulling, and generally using their senses. Information is carefully structured through engaging, interactive displays. Science centres include interactive exhibits that respond to the visitor's action and invite further response, as well as hands-on exhibits that don't offer feedback to the visitor, In general, science centres offer 'a decontextualized scattering of interactive exhibits, which can be thought of as exploring stations of ideas usually presented in small rooms or galleries, with scant attention paid to applications of science, social political contexts, or moral and ethical implications.

By the 1960s, these interactive science centres with their specialised hands-on galleries became prevalent. The Exploratorium in San Francisco, and the Ontario Science Centre in 1969, were two of the earliest examples of science centres dedicated to exploring scientific principles through hands-on exhibits. In the United States practically every major city has a science centre with a total annual visitation of 115 million New technologies of display and new interpretive experiments mark these interactive science centers, and the mantra 'public understanding of science' aptly describes their central activity.

Science museums, in particular, might consist of planetaria, or large theatre usually built around a dome. Museums might have IMAX feature films, which might provide 3-D viewing or higher quality picture. As a result, IMAX content provides a more immersive experience for people of all ages.

Also new virtual museums, known as Net Museums, have recently been created. These are usually websites belonging to real museums and containing photo galleries of items found in those real museums. This new presentation is quite useful for people living far away who wish to see the contents of these museums.

Specialized museums

Antique cuckoo clocks in the interior of Cuckooland Museum.

A number of different museums exist to demonstrate a variety of topics. Music museums might celebrate the life and work of composers or musicians, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, or even the Rimsky-Korsakov Apartment and Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Other music museums include live music recitals, such as the Handel House Museum in London, England.

In Glendale, Arizona, the Bead Museum fosters an appreciation and understanding of the global, historical, cultural, and artistic significance of beads and related artefacts dating as far back as 15,000 years. Also residing in the American Southwest are living history towns such as Tombstone, Arizona. This historical town is home to a number of "living history" museums (such as the O.K. Corral and the Tombstone Epitaph) in which visitors can learn about historical events from actors playing the parts of historical figures like Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and John Clum. Colonial Williamsburg (in Williamsburg, Virginia), is another great example of a town devoted to preserving the storey of America through reenactment.

South Korea is host to the world's first museum devoted to the history and development of organic farming, the Namyangju Organic Museum, with exhibit captions in both Korean and English, and which opened in 2011.

The No Show Museum, based in Zurich and Johannesburg, is the world's first museum dedicated to nothing and its various manifestations throughout the history of art.

Museums targeted for youth, such as children's museums or toy museums in a large number of parts of the world, often exhibit interactive and educational material on a wide array of topics, for example, the Museum of Toys and Automata in Spain. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the "Borusseum", the museum about Borussia Dortmund in Dortmund, Germany, are institutions of the sports category. The Corning Museum of Glass is devoted to the art, history, and science of glass. The National Museum of Crime & Punishment explores the science of solving crimes. The Great American Dollhouse Museum in Danville, Kentucky, U.S.A., depicts American social history in miniature. Interpretation centres are modern museums or visitors centres that often use new means of communication with the public. In a few cases, museums cover an extremely wide range of topics together, such as the Museum of World Treasures in Wichita, KS. In additional instances, museums emphasise regional culture and natural history, such as the Regional Museum of the National University of San Martin, Tarapoto, Peru.

Virtual museums

A development, with the expansion of the web, is the establishment of virtual museums. Online initiatives like the Virtual Museum of Canada and the National Museum of the United States Air Force provide physical museums with a web presence, as well as online curatorial platforms such as Rhizome.

Some virtual museums have no counterpart in the real world, such as LIMAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Lima), which has no physical location and might be confused with the city's own museum. The art historian Griselda Pollock elaborated a virtual feminist museum, spreading between classical art to contemporary art.

Some real life museums are additionally using the internet for virtual tours and exhibitions. In 2010, the Whitney Museum in New York organised what it called the first ever online Twitter museum tour.

Zoological parks and botanic gardens

Zoos are considered "living museums". This is the entrance of the San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California.

Although zoos and botanical gardens aren't often thought of as museums, they're in fact "living museums". They exist for the same purpose as additional museums: to educate, inspire action, and to study, develop, and manage collections. They are additionally managed much like additional museums and face the same challenges. Notable zoos include the San Diego Zoo, the London Zoo, Brookfield Zoo at Chicago, Berlin Zoological Garden, the Bronx Zoo in New York City, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Jardin des Plantes in Paris, and Zürich Zoologischer Garten in Switzerland. Notable botanic gardens include Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden, Taipei Botanical Garden, and Royal Botanical Gardens (Ontario).