The original usage of the word Musaeum from which the modern word “museum” is derived referred to what we might today refer to as a university.
Some of the early museums were the private accumulations of the wealthy. One of the early collectors included such families as the de Medicis who amassed collections through generations.
The “cabinet of curiosities” which was a part of the pursuit of natural history was another pursuit of the wealthy. It was made out to be a show of one’s admiration of the Creator.
Collections cannot be meaningful when private. Ultimately everyone dies and institutions that lasts beyond the life of individuals arise.
Colonial pursuits led to the rise of museums and a rapid growth in collections.
The earliest public museum was created through an act passed in 1753.
Today museums are all seeking to open up, make themselves meaningful in an era where they need to engage with the general public in new ways.
The connection between the museum and other forms of knowledge gathering and dissemination is an old one. Some of the earliest encyclopaedists were also the ones pushing for public museums.
And the idea of encylopaedias and other tertiary sources is an old one. The public was involved in gathering information even before the invention of the word “crowdsourcing” and what later became the Oxford English Dictionary was originally compiled from contributions provided by the public.
It would be inappropriate to miss out on the role of India in the history of museums. Many army officers in India, particularly physicians, and especially Scotsmen from Edinburgh were influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment and they continued to maintain their liberal views on education. Some like Edward Balfour were thinking about the role of public education, human rights, empowering women, protecting the environment and in scholarly discourses that emphasised the use of evidence and logic.
A lot of the figures in the history of museums in India are not well documented. The Wikipedia entry on Balfour that I compiled might (sadly?) be the most comprehensive entry on the man.
Even obtaining images is difficult. This painting by W S Barnard is the only one made of Edward Balfour.
Balfour was instrumental in setting up the museum at Madras and the one at Bangalore. Before this he had compiled an encylopaedia on India, which was partly an outcome of his involvement with the Great Exhibition of 1851.
He too gathered artefacts for the museum through public contribution. He believed that it would be inappropriate to charge the public which is contributing to it in the first place.
Today the museum that he set up makes use of material from Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, although not really following the licensing requirements.
Museums around the world are making use of new technology, improving accessibility, enhancing impact and engaging the public. Information technology and mobile phones have greatly changed the world.
The meaning of “public domain” is much confused in India. Public accessibility does not make content free. While copyrights serve a purpose, it also greatly hinders usage when people actually intend to help each other. Licensing allows for a range of options ranging from the fully restricted to the unrestricted or “Public Domain” status.
The Indian Copyright Act 1957 is largely derived from British laws but today even the UK government has made advances to free access to information that is rightly the property of the public.
The laws of the United States of America explicitly state that federally (=central government) funded work done by the government is to be in the public domain (with some exceptions). This has led to major debates within academia about the ethics of publishing in journals that charge the public and are run by large private publishing companies with a profit-motive.
Wikipedia has been around since about 2001 and has it is perhaps the largest multi-author project and one that has gained much from the earlier successes of the free and open-source software movement, especially GNU/Linux which evolved the philosophical position that preventing commercial activity would not be beneficial to the vision.
During the course of this workshop, you will be able to understand the mechanics of editing Wikipedia, contributing media, interacting with other editors, copyrights, licensing and the guidelines that one has to follow so as to be an effective contributor.
The Sloane bequest involved passing an Act in 1753 which allowed the
British Museum to open itself to the public on 5 January 1759
The state gets involved
Openness and participation
Note: Copyrighted book covers used for purpose of commentary/review (under a fair use clause)
Diderot suggested a national museum for France in the ninth volume of the Encyclopédie (1765)
The Encylopaedia and the Museum
The Encylopaedia and some other tertiary sources