The International Politics of Museums
Museums and galleries do not exist independently of the societies that they are a part of. Equally, they do not exist independently of the wider patterns of thought, argument, expectation and belief that are to be found at the international level of organisation and action (Sylvester, 2009, 3–6). These international factors have an important part to play in the establishment of legitimations for the variety of museum practices and customs in different countries and regions of the world, as well as in providing justifications and rationalisations for the entire museum enterprise: Duncan (1995, 16), for example, argues that ‘through most of the nineteenth century, an international museum culture remained firmly committed to the idea that the first responsibility of a public art museum is to enlighten and improve its visitors morally, socially and politically’, thus providing a purpose and focus for museums that was rooted in an accepted set of ideas that were commonly shared. In practice, the world of museums today is neither simply the product of some basic human need to collect and exhibit material that is meaningful to groups and societies, nor simply the result of some evolutionary development that can be explained as leading, in the traditionally Whiggish fashion, to a continually better set of collections, patterns of display, conservation techniques, exhibition and labelling.
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