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A museum is an institution that cares for (conserves) a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may 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 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 "collections of collections" of three-dimensional specimens and artifacts) to expand to include virtual exhibits and high-resolution images of their collections for perusal, study, and exploration 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. However, Pausanias gives another place called "Museum," namely a small hill in Classical Athens opposite 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.
The purpose of modern museums is to collect, preserve, interpret, and display items of cultural, artistic, or scientific significance for the education of the public. The purpose can also 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 could 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 world famous Smithsonian Institution, stated he wanted to establish an institution "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge. " Museums of natural history in the late 19th 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 19th century, they developed their own natural history collections for the use of their students. By the last quarter of the 19th 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 many large museums, such as the Smithsonian Institution, are still respected as research centers, research is no longer a main purpose of museums. While there is an ongoing debate about the purposes of interpretation of a museum’s collection, there has been a consistent mission to protect and preserve artifacts for future generations. Much care, expertise, and expense is invested in preservation efforts to retard decomposition in aging 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 other people having some version of the same experience can be enchanting. "
Museum purposes vary from institution to institution. Some favor education over conservation, or vice versa. For example, in the 1970s, the Canada Science and Technology Museum favored 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 some 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 do not allow physical contact with the associated artifacts, there are some 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 may have been.
This article lists the most visited museums in the world (for Art Museums see the List of most visited art museums in the world). This list of the top 20 most visited museums is compiled by AECOM and the Themed Entertainment Association's annual report on the world's most visited attractions. As the list below shows, London, Paris, and Washington, D.C. dominate the list, with 13 of the world's top 20 museums between them.
|Rank||Museum||City||Country||Visitor count (annually)|
|National Museum of Natural History||Washington, D.C.||United States||8,000,000|
|National Museum of China||Beijing||China||7,450,000|
|National Air and Space Museum||Washington, D.C.||United States||6,970,000|
|British Museum||London||United Kingdom||6,701,000|
|The Metropolitan Museum of Art||New York City||United States||6,280,000|
|National Gallery||London||United Kingdom||6,031,000|
|Vatican Museums||Vatican City (Rome)||Vatican City||5,459,000|
|Natural History Museum||London||United Kingdom||5,250,000|
|American Museum of Natural History||New York City||United States||5,000,000|
|National Museum of American History||Washington, D.C.||United States||4,900,000|
|Tate Modern||London||United Kingdom||4,885,000|
|National Palace Museum||Taipei||Taiwan||4,412,000|
|National Gallery of Art||Washington, D.C.||United States||4,100,000|
|Shanghai Science and Technology Museum||Shanghai||China||3,580,000|
|National Museum of Natural Science||Taichung||Taiwan||3,396,000|
|The Science Museum||London||United Kingdom||3,317,000|
|Victoria and Albert Museum||London||United Kingdom||3,290,000|
The museum of ancient times, such as the Museum of Alexandria, would be equivalent to a modern graduate institute.
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 is 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 during this time period gained a higher social status in the world of elites was by becoming a collector of these curious objects and displaying them. Many of the items in these collections were new discoveries and these collectors or naturalists, since many these people held interest in natural sciences, were eager to obtain them. By putting their collections in a museum and on display they only got to show their fantastic finds but they also 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 many 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 encyclopedic 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 18th century 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 displayed everything in any order like the displays of Aldrovandi.
The first "public" museums were often accessible only by the middle and upper classes. It could 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 during the 19th 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 some 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 sometimes attributed to Sir Christopher Wren or Thomas Wood.
In France, the first public museum was the Louvre Museum in Paris, opened in 1793 during 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 organizing the Louvre as a national public museum and the centerpiece 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 organizational task became more and more complicated. After Napoleon was defeated in 1815, many of the treasures he had amassed were gradually returned to their owners (and many were not). His plan was never fully realized, but his concept of a museum as an agent of nationalistic fervor had a profound influence throughout Europe.
American museums eventually joined European museums as the world's leading centers 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 realized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (this is often called "The Museum Period" or "The Museum Age"). While many 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, many 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 19th 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 centers 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 roles associated with the management a museum largely depends 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 fulfill the museum’s mission statement and to ensure that the museum is accountable to the public. Together, the Board and the Director establish a good system of governance that is guided by various other documents such as an institutional or strategic plan, institutional code of ethics, bylaws, and collections policy. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has also formulated a series of standards and best practices that help guide the management of museums. Unfortunately, many small, local museums lack this guidance since accreditation with AAM requires a museum to operate on an annual budget of at least $25,000.
A change in leadership may ultimately effect changes at the museum, as new directors commonly have new ideas for the institution they work for. While change and growth is often good for a museum, they should not reach outside the original mission statement of the institution.
According to museum professionals Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland, "Administration of the organization requires skill in conflict management, interpersonal relations, budget management and monitoring, and staff supervision and evaluation. Managers must also 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. These positions include but are not limited to curators, collections managers/registrars, public programmers/educators, exhibition designers, and building operators. These positions and all other employees should work together toward the museum’s institutional goal.
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.
The design of museums has evolved throughout history, however, 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 20th century so that other 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 some 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 is 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 were not easily accessed by the public, in gloomy European style buildings.
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, organization and experiences needed to realize 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 very few or no artifacts and do not 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 stories are told or information is interpreted. In contrast, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. uses many artifacts in their memorable exhibitions.
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 may include audio-visual specialists, software designers, audience research and evaluation specialists, writers, editors, and preparators or art handlers. These staff specialists may also 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 may also 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 artifacts 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 many 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, gray 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 very 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, is not 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 dehumanization of the victims as they are 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 chorus 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 artifacts 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 artifacts 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 artifacts in a neutral manner to orchestrate and narrate the historic narrative through, ideally, the provenance of the artifacts themselves.
While albeit necessary to most some degree in any museum repertoire, the use of authentic artifacts 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 other 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 artifacts themselves. A well designed exhibition should employ objects and artifacts as a foundation to the narrative but not as a crutch; a lesson any conscientious curator would be well to keep in mind.
Types of museums vary, from large institutions, covering many of the categories below, to very 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 many museums specialize further, e.g. museums of modern art, folk art, local history, military history, aviation history, philately, agriculture or geology. Another type of museum is an encyclopedic museum. Commonly referred to as a universal museum, encyclopedic 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 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 sometimes dedicate a portion of the museum or a permanent exhibit to a particular facet or era of architecture and design, though this does not technically constitute a proper museum of architecture. 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. Another 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 also in its broader topical scope, which encompasses smaller modern appliances and graphic design.
A very 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 an historic structure, built in 1758, and therefore also an embodiment of historic preservation and restoration. In addition to instructing the public about its eighteenth century German-American style architecture, the Schifferstadt also 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 is considerable room for expanding into other 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 specialize in the display of archaeological artifacts. Many are in the open air, such as the Agora of Athens and the Roman Forum. Others display artifacts 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 also developed a 'museum-without-walls' through a series of underwater wreck trails.
An art museum, also 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 sculpture. Collections of drawings and old master prints are often not displayed on the walls, but kept in a print room. There may be collections of applied art, including ceramics, metalwork, furniture, artist's books and other types of object. 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 since 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 many 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 since the sixteenth century, and in 1765 it was officially opened to the public. Another early public museum was the British Museum in London, which opened to the public in 1759. It was a "universal museum" with very varied collections covering art, applied art, archaeology, anthropology, history, and science, and what is now the British Library. The science collections, library, paintings and modern sculpture have since 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 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 are dedicated to items relating to the life of a single person or group of people, and may also display the items collected by their subjects during their lifetimes. Some biographical museums are located in a house or other site associated with the lives of their subjects (e.g. Sagamore Hill (house) which contains the Theodore Roosevelt Museum), while others, such as many presidential libraries, are housed in specially constructed buildings.
Children's museums are institutions that provide exhibits and programs 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 many are run by volunteers or by very small professional staffs.
International professional organizations 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.
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 encyclopedic museums is to provide examples of each classification available for a field of knowledge. "With 3% of the world's population, or nearly 200 million people, living outside the country of their birth, encyclopedic 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 encyclopedic museums. They state that encyclopedic 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 encyclopedic museums because they remove cultural objects from their original cultural setting, losing their context.
Ethnology museums are a type of museum that focus on studying, collecting, preserving and displaying artifacts 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.
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 centered 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.
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 do not meet the professional standards established by the museum industry. An independent survey conducted by Peggy Coats in 1990 revealed that sixty-five percent of historic house museums did not 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 also 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 also unique in that the actual structure belongs to the museum collection as a historical object. While some historic home museums are fortunate to possess a collection containing many of the original furnishings once present in the home, many face the challenge of displaying a collection consistent with the historical structure. Some museums choose to collect 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 other 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 also 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 cover the knowledge of history and its relevance to the present and future. Some cover specialized curatorial aspects of history or a particular locality; others are more general. Such museums contain a wide range of objects, including documents, artifacts of all kinds, art, archaeological objects. Antiquities museums specialize in more archaeological findings.
A common type of history museum is a historic house. A historic house may be a building of special architectural interest, the birthplace or home of a famous person, or a house with an interesting history. Historic sites can also serve as museums. 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 archeological value regardless of the value of any existing structure.” Historic sites can also mark public crimes, such as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia or Robben Island, South Africa. 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 days just before the American Revolution in the 18th century. The 301 acre historic area includes hundreds of buildings, in their original locations, but mostly reconstructed.
Living history museums recreate historical settings to simulate past time periods, providing visitors with an experiential interpretation of history. These museums feature reconstructions of particular time periods and/or locations and are staffed by historical site interpreters who often reflect the time period. To reflect the time period, interpreters use costumes, period speech, and character impersonations while performing daily tasks and crafts of the period. These museums have found particular popularity in the United States and Canada.
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, Arthur Hazelius, began the museum by using his personal collection of buildings and other 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 some military garrisons in North America used some living history techniques. However, the growth of new social history beginning in the 1960s and 1970s and excitement over the United States Bicentennial in 1976 gave living history displays new credibility and use. Since this time, living history museums have become more widespread. Some of these first museums that are now well known in the United States are Colonial Williamsburg, Plimoth Plantation, Connor Prairie Pioneer Settlement, and Old Sturbridge Village. 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).
The relative authenticity of living history farms varies significantly. At its best, they most accurately reflect the past appropriate to the time period while at their worst they may portray gross inaccuracies in an attempt to portray a certain idealized image. One such example is Wichita’s Old Cowtown Museum, which in its small, rural representation of Wichita resembles Western movies and Wild West myths more than the bustling urban city that Wichita quickly became. This living history narrative developed because of the availability of small historical buildings and inaccurate replicas, prodding from the city, and the influence of Hollywood. Museum professionals must grapple with these issues of conflicting audience and institutional needs which impact the overall structure of living history. Living history museums have also been criticized for their ability to teach, particularly from those that believe "living history is antiquarian, idyllic, or downright misleading." In response to this question, the Association for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) has stated that they distinguish between an unchanging past and an interpretation of a constantly changing past. It additionally was affirmed by the ALHFAM that they also support Dr. Scott Magelssen’s idea that living history museums produce history as others do, such as teachers in classrooms, authors in monographs, and even directors in film.
Maritime museums are museums that specialize in the presentation of maritime history, culture or archaeology. They explore the relationship between societies and certain bodies of water. Just as there is a wide variety of museum types, there are also many 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 other artifacts 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 Museum and Mystic Seaport. Military-focused maritime museums are a third variety, of which the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is an example.
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 other 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 practice of materia medica in the late 16th 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 17th century, and by the mid-18th century physicians like John Hunter were using personal anatomical collections as teaching tools. By the early 19th century many 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 19th century and into the early 20th 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 20th 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 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 20th century as a response to the numerous and well publicized mass atrocities committed during that century. The events commemorated by memorial museums tend to involve mostly civilian victims who died under "morally problematic circumstances" that cannot 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, due to open in the spring of 2014. Although the concept of a memorial museum is largely a product of the 20th century there are museums of this type that focus on events from other 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 very often situated at the scene of the atrocity they seek to commemorate. Memorial museums also often have close connections 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 many 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 museums specialize in military histories; they are often organized from a national point of view, where a museum in a particular country will have displays organized around conflicts in which that country has taken part. They typically include displays of weapons and other military equipment, uniforms, wartime propaganda and exhibits on civilian life during wartime, and decorations, among others. A military museum may be dedicated to a particular or area, such as the Imperial War Museum Duxford for military aircraft, Deutsches Panzermuseum for tanks or the International Spy Museum for espionage, The National World War I Museum for World War I or more generalist, such as the Canadian War Museum or the Musée de l'Armée.
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 also created a mobile museum as part of the graduate program in History. The project is called Museum on the Move
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 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 other parts of the world. Most open-air museums are located in regions where wooden architecture prevail, as wooden structures may be translocated without substantial loss of authenticity. A more recent but related idea is realized in ecomuseums, which originated in France.
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 favor 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 some 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 centers and even a walk-in closet. Some examples of pop-up museums include:
Science museums and technology centers or technology museums revolve around scientific achievements, and marvels and their history. To explain complicated inventions, a combination of demonstrations, interactive programs and thought-provoking media are used. Some museums may have exhibits on topics such as computers, aviation, railway museums, physics, astronomy, and the animal kingdom.
Science museums traditionally emphasize 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. 
The nineteenth century also 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 centers include interactive exhibits that respond to the visitor's action and invite further response, as well as hands-on exhibits that do not offer feedback to the visitor, In general, science centers 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 centers with their specialized hands-on galleries became prevalent. The Exploratorium in San Francisco, and the Ontario Science Center in 1969, were two of the earliest examples of science centers dedicated to exploring scientific principles through hands-on exhibits. In the United States practically every major city has a science center 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, may consist of planetaria, or large theatre usually built around a dome. Museums may have IMAX feature films, which may 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 very useful for people living far away who wish to see the contents of these museums.
A number of different museums exist to demonstrate a variety of topics. Music museums may celebrate the life and work of composers or musicians, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, or even Rimsky-Korsakov Apartment and Museum in St Petersburg (Russia). Other music museums include live music recitals such as the Handel House Museum in London.
In Glendale, Arizona the Bead Museum fosters an appreciation and understanding of the global, historical, cultural, and artistic significance of beads and related artifacts 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 story of America through reenactment.
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.
Museums targeted for youth, such as children's museums or toy museums in many 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 some cases, museums cover an extremely wide range of topics together, such as the Museum of World Treasures in Wichita, KS. In other instances, museums emphasize regional culture and natural history, such as the Regional Museum of the National University of San Martin, Tarapoto, Peru.
A recent 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 also using the internet for virtual tours and exhibitions. On 23 March, Whitney Museum in New York organized what it called the first ever online Twitter museum tour.
Although zoos and botanic gardens are not often thought of as museums, they are in fact "living museums". They exist for the same purpose as other museums: to educate, inspire action, and to study, develop and manage collections. They are also managed much like other museums and face the same challenges. Notable zoos include the Bronx Zoo in New York, the London Zoo, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Saint Louis Zoological Park, the San Diego Zoo, Berlin Zoological Garden, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Frankfurt Zoological Garden, Jardin des Plantes in Paris, and Zürich Zoologischer Garten in Switzerland. Notable botanic gardens include Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden, Taipei Botanical Garden and Royal Botanical Gardens (Ontario).