The ideal of universal museums came to prominence in the European Enlightenment and has recently come into new focus with the controversy provoked by the “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums,” issued in 2002 by a series of prominent Western museums, to defend their institutions against rising repatriation demands.
The term “universal” or “encyclopedic” museum today refers mainly to famous museums with collections of art and other cultural items from around the world, not just from the nation where they are located. However, the term has also been used for museums focused on technology, science, and other fields. The most recent museum deploying the term may be the Universalmuseum Joanneum in Austria, officially renamed in 2009. It has wide-ranging collections ranging from naturalia to paintings and was founded in 1811 to gather everything that “nature, the changing times, human industry and perseverance have created” (Universalmuseum...
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