The museum is a place that evokes the past through the objects that its displays.
The concept of the historical museum is embedded in the idea that explaining the past, through its artifacts and the ideas that they evoke, can also be a way of comprehending the present, and possibly even having thoughts about the future. An initial curiosity about the past can lead on to attempts to understand it and such an understanding may throw light on the present. The museum is a place that evokes the past through the objects that its displays. Until recent times they were treated as objects that spur curiosity and this can create a sense of wonder in the beholder, the assumption being that they are different from the objects that surround us in the present. Hence the names of what started off as a kind of museum - such as the wunderkammer, the cabinet of curiosities, and the ajaibghar literally, the house of strange things.
Slowly the purpose of the museum evolved into something more. It remained a place that housed objects of interest from the past but these objects began to follow patterns of thought. Two strands were influential. One pertained to the nineteenth century discussions on the evolution of the universe and the other to the evolution of the human being and human cultures. In conformity with these notions, the contents of museums tended to bifurcate. Some focused on geology and the natural sciences, and others on pre-history and history. Today there are museums that relate to many disciplines and the objects associated with them. This is why I have specified that my concern is with historical museums.
This kind of museum is perhaps more accessible to most people since those relating to natural sciences are thought to require more specialized knowledge. The latter reach out to a past that is extremely distant in time and require a far greater stretch of the imagination than most people can comprehend. The historical museum relates to the more immediate past, the past that is imminent to our present, the past that almost conditions our present as some would like to believe. The link has been projected as being closer. I shall address my remarks to the museums of this kind.
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