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a place or building where objects of historical, artistic, or scientific interest are exhibited, preserved, or studied
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


A public or private nonprofit institution organized on a permanent basis for essentially educational or aesthetic purposes that owns or uses tangible objects and works of art, cares for them, and exhibits them to the public on a regular basis through its own or other facilities.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a learned and educational institution organized to collect, preserve, study, and present to the public monuments of natural history and objects of material and spiritual culture, which constitute primary sources of knowledge about the development of nature and human society. Museum collections consist primarily of objects from nature and artifacts, including works of art. Museums also collect written sources (manuscripts, printed documents, and books—from incunabula to publications of recent times that are of historical value).

Most modern museums are both research and education oriented. Permanent and temporary displays play a particularly important educational role.

There are many different types of museums, each having its own specific orientation. Museums are classified according to their basic social purpose. Thus, there are research-educational museums (most museums are of this type; sometimes they are called public museums); research museums, which serve as laboratories at research institutes; and instructional museums.

A museum’s specialization relates to a certain branch of production, science, or art. Thus, there are historical, natural history, art studies, literature, and technical museums. These types of museums are broken down even further. For example, historical museums include museums of general history, revolutionary history, military history, archaeology, and ethnology. There are museums of fine arts, applied arts, theater, and music. There are polytechnic museums and museums of such branches of technology as communications and transportation. Natural history museums include zoological, botanical, and geological museums. Memorial museums constitute a special group. Some museums have combined specializations. The most common museum of this type combines specializations in history and natural history and is the basis of certain local museums known as museums of local lore.

The history of museums as a specific type of social institution meeting political, scholarly, cultural, and economic requirements goes back to early antiquity. The forerunners of museums appeared at the stage of development of human society when objects taken from nature and social life were for the first time preserved not for utilitarian economic purposes or for their material value but for their aesthetic value and as documentary evidence. This was done, for example, with the depositories of the Palace of Cnossus on Crete (16th century B.C.), the Palace of the Wangs and the archive of the Yin oracles (China, 13th and 12th centuries B.C.), and the Library of the Palace of Nineveh (seventh century B.C.).

In ancient Greece and Rome, temples and, later, private collections (beginning in the third century B.C.), primarily contained works of art (the galleries of Varus and Sulla; the collections of Servilius, Crassus, Lucullus, Pompey, and Caesar). Diverse collections were kept in Byzantine cathedrals and monasteries, and, later (beginning in the 13th century), in the medieval cathedrals of France, Italy, Germany, and other countries; these collections included objects that were said to have belonged to “holy persons” of the new Christian pantheon, sacred utensils, icons, and manuscripts.

During the Renaissance, museums appeared in Europe to meet scholarly requirements, which were associated, in particular, with the great geographical discoveries, as well as with the needs of the developing sciences and of production. Animal and plant specimens, minerals, geodetic and astronomical instruments (“philosophical instruments”), and objects of ethnographic interest were gathered. Particularly popular were palace collections and small collections containing rare objects of natural historical, ethnographic, and art historical interest. It was at this time that the first descriptions of museums, as well as museo-logical theoretical essays, appeared. Dating to this time are collections of ancient art in Florence (L. Medici, 15th century), Rome (the Vatican museums, 16th century), and Dresden (Augustus of Saxony, 16th century). In the 17th and 18th centuries, numerous private historical, archaeological, natural history, and art collections were formed, many of which constituted the basis of state national museums in the 18th and, particularly, the 19th century.

In the period of capitalism, material needs have encouraged the development of museums and the growth of a museum network with an education, popularization, and research orientation. At the same time, museums are being used more often by the ruling classes for the purpose of disseminating bourgeois ideology. In 1970 the most developed museum networks in the capitalist countries were in the USA (about 2,000 museums), Italy (more than 1,200), France (about 1,000), Great Britain (more than 900), and the Federal Republic of Germany (more than 800).

Museums have existed in Russia for many centuries. Sources from the 12th through 17th centuries contain much information about the safekeeping of valuable historical and artistic objects in cathedrals and monasteries in Vladimir, Kiev, and Novgorod. The Armory collection and the depository of the Patriarchal Sacristy in Moscow were gathered from the 15th through the 17th century. Also well known are the 16th- and 17th-century collections of Ivan IV, B. Godunov, F. S. Miloslavskii, A. S. Matveev, and V. V. Golitsyn. The first Russian public museum —the Kunstkamera—was opened in St. Petersburg in 1719 and was based on the collections of Peter I. When the Kunstkamera was placed under the jurisdiction of the Academy of Sciences, museums began to be viewed as major learned institutions. In the second half of the 18th century and in the 19th century, the first local museums appeared in Irkutsk (1782), Barnaul (1827), Orenburg (1831), and Astrakhan (1836). The Historical Artillery Museum (1756) and the Hermitage were established in St. Petersburg in 1756 and 1764, respectively. Collections directly related to production appeared, such as the rooms of models and the natural history cabinets of the Free Economic Society, which were transformed into museums in the early 19th century. Historical-archaeological museums were founded in Nikolaev (1806), Odessa (1825), St. Petersburg (Rumiantsev Museum, 1831), and other cities.

The museum network grew especially rapidly in the mid-19th century. Museums were established with the help of statistical committees, zemstvos (district and provincial assemblies), academic archive commissions, learned societies, and universities. The development of agriculture and industry led to the founding of the Agricultural Museum in St. Petersburg (1859), the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow (1872), and craft sections in local museums. The growth of national consciousness and the development of art and science were exemplified in the founding of the Tret’iakov Gallery (1856), the Russian Historical Museum (1872), and the Russian Museum (1898).

By October 1917, more than 150 museums were in existence (not including military and church archaeological museums). At the same time, many valuable objects were in private collections to which access was difficult even for scholars and specialists. The unsystematic inventory of objects, the absence of specific legislation dealing with museums, and the lack of an organized methodology impeded the development of museums.

In the USSR. The Soviet government has made museums the property of the people. Government directives and decrees, as well as resolutions of the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR in 1917–18, nationalized the largest private museums, established a procedure for preserving museums and monuments and for registering them on the state list, and prohibited taking works of art abroad (decree dated Sept. 19, 1918). In November 1917 the All-Russian Collegium on Museums and the Preservation of Monuments was created in the People’s Commissariat for Education of the RSFSR. In May 1918 the commissariat established a museum division to administer all museums; in 1921 the museum division became part of Glavnauka (Central Scientific Administration). Subdivisions dealing with museum affairs were established in various localities. The Academy of Sciences and the Socialist Academy of Material Culture were called upon to direct the scholarly work of museums.

The Third Congress of Soviets in January 1918 adopted a resolution on the development of the museums in the country. In accordance with Lenin’s concept of a cultural revolution, the resolution stressed the importance of preserving the cultural heritage and emphasized the need of turning cultural monuments “into public museums to be used as a means of upbringing.”

The program adopted at the Eighth Congress of the RCP (Bolshevik) in March 1919 aimed “to open up and make accessible to the working people all the art treasures that had been created through the exploitation of their labor and that until today were exclusively at the disposal of the exploiters.” The establishment of a unified network of state museums was paralleled by the rapid increase in the number of museums and by the appearance of museums with new specializations, particularly those specializing in revolutionary history. In 1920 there were 394 museums. Between 1918 and 1923 more than 250 new museums were founded.

In 1941 there were 991 state museums in the USSR. Despite the enormous losses inflicted on museums in the regions that were temporarily occupied during the Great Patriotic War by the fascists, the network of museums was not only restored but expanded in the postwar years. Particularly noteworthy was the growth of the museum network in the Union republics, each of which had only a few or no museums until the October Revolution of 1917 (the Georgian SSR had three museums, and in 1972, 75; the Armenian SSR had one museum, and in 1972, 34; the Uzbek SSR had three museums, and in 1972, 28; the Azerbaijan SSR had no museums, and in 1972, 38).

By the end of 1972, the USSR had 1,190 state museums, as well as thousands of school and people’s museums that were created and operate on a volunteer basis. The state museums included 511 museums of local lore, 199 historical museums and museums of revolutionary history, 171 art museums, 36 museums of natural history, and 242 memorial museums. All museum-oriented materials belong to the Museum Fund of the USSR.

The ministries of culture, which have jurisdiction over most state museums, define general museum policy. Problems concerning the methodology of museum management are worked out at the methodological centers of major museums and of the ministries of culture of the Union republics, as well as at the department of museology of the Research Institute of Culture of the Ministry of Culture of the RSFSR. Soviet museums conduct a great amount of research and educational work: they add to and study collections, provide scholarly documentation, preserve and restore museum objects, and issue monographs, catalogs, guidebooks, and publications of primary sources. The principal means used to disseminate knowledge are permanent displays created on the basis of Marxist-Leninist methodology and the methods worked out by Soviet museologists.

In accordance with the resolution of the Central Committee of the CPSU On Upgrading the Role of Museums in the Communist Upbringing of the Working People (May 1964), Soviet museums are actively carrying out various types of scholarly and educational work. Museum tours for the public are particularly important. In 1972 the state museums alone had more than 115 million visitors (in 1913, 5 million).

The museum network in other socialist countries is vast and diverse, and the rapid growth of museums has typified the building of socialism. It reflects a general cultural upsurge and the desire of the people’s state to make thorough use of scholarly and cultural resources in carrying out a cultural revolution. According to data from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the German Democratic Republic has 552 museums; Czechoslovakia, 416; Poland, 335; Bulgaria, 146; Hungary, 185; Rumania, 293; and Yugoslavia, 302.

The developing countries of Asia and Africa that have broken free from colonial dependency are creating national museum networks designed to promote the preservation of valuable scholarly and cultural-historical materials and the development of national consciousness, culture, and the education of the people.

In the early 1970’s there were more than 12,000 museums in the world. The world’s museums maintain contact with one another through international organizations. UNESCO has an International Council of Museums (ICOM), which is made up of national museum committees, including the Soviet committee.


“Istoriia muzeinogo dela ν SSSR” [no. 1]. In Trudy NI in-ta muzeevedeniia, 1957, no. 1.
Ocherki istorii muzeinogo dela v Rossii, nos. 2–3. Moscow, 1960–61.
“Voprosy istorii muzeinogo dela ν SSSR,” no. 4. In Trudy NI in-ta muzeevedeniia, 1962, no. 7.
“Ocherki istorii muzeinogo dela ν SSSR,” no. 5. In Trudy NI in-ta muzeevedeniia, 1963, no. 9.
Ocherki istorii muzeinogo dela ν SSSR, nos. 6–7. Moscow, 1968–71.
Osnovy sovetskogo muzeevedeniia. Moscow, 1955.
Rol’muzeev ν kommunisticheskom vospitanii trudiashchikhsia. Moscow, 1966.
Spisok gosudarstvennykh muzeev SSSR. Moscow, 1969.
Handbuch der Museen und wissenschaftlichen Sammlungen in der DDR.
Edited by H. A. Knorr. Halle, 1963.
Lorentz, S. Przewodnik po muzeach i zbiorach w Polsce. Warsaw, 1971. Museums and Galleries in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. London, 1960–68.
Poisson, G. Les Musées de France [2nd ed.]. Paris, 1965.
Handbook of American Museums. Washington, 1932.
Museum. UNESCO, Paris, 1948—.
Museum architecture. The first buildings intended specifically for housing collections were primarily 17th- and 18th-century palace galleries (for example, the Small Hermitage in St. Petersburg, 1764–67, architect J. B. M. Vallin de la Mothe) and cabinets of curios (the Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg, 1718–34, architects G. I. Mattarnovi and others). In the 19th century a special type of museum building evolved (for example, the Old Museum in Berlin, 1824–28, architect K. F. Schinkel). As in the palaces, which were often adapted for museums (the Louvre), the rooms in these buildings were usually laid out either as a suite or around one or two internal courtyards. Beginning in the late 19th century, museums were usually built as a complex consisting of exhibition halls, storerooms, a library, a lecture room, and other facilities. The elaborate facades were done in a classicist or national style, and the interiors were frequently decorated in the style of the objects being exhibited. Beginning in the mid-20th century, museum buildings were often designed in such a way as to harmonize with the specific nature of the collections, with national traditions, with climatic conditions, and with the surrounding urban design. For example, the W. Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg (1964, architect M. Lehmbruck) consists of two buildings surrounding a small open courtyard used for the exhibition of sculpture. One of the buildings houses a permanent exhibition of works by the sculptor W. Lehmbruck, and the other is used for temporary exhibitions of 20th-century sculpture. The new building of the Hanover Historical Museum (1967, architect D. Oesterlen), which includes the ruins of a medieval fortress, is a low structure built in a series of steps to follow the terrain and maintain the scale of the medieval street.
A common feature of modern museum architecture is flexibility in the use of interior space, that is, the possibility of transforming the main spaces and then expanding them. Most modern museums have a well-lit central room that unifies the exhibition floors (Tashkent branch of the V. I. Lenin Central Museum, 1970; architects E. G. Rozanov, V. N. Shestopalov, and others; engineers V. P. Krichevskii and others). In modern museums, exhibits are often organized to be viewed separately and as integral parts of the museum’s entire collection (Anthropological Museum in Mexico City, 1965, architects P. Rodriguez Vásquez, R. Mijares). Often spatial effects are used to make collections more attractive. Various methods of grouping and separating exhibits by partitions are used. Modern museums are frequently characterized by bi-level displays and by contrasting spaces differing in shape, height, and illumination. The combined use of natural and artificial illumination plays an important role in the visual and spatial organization of exhibition rooms.
Present-day memorial museums frequently are complexes consisting of a main memorial area, in which the natural terrain serves as an artistic element, and an exhibition building, whose design reflects the exhibition’s basic idea and content (for example, the memorial the victims of fascist terrorism in Salaspils, 1961–67, architects O. N. Zakamennyi and others; sculptors L. V. Bukovskii, J. Zarins, O. Skarainis). Another common type of memorial museum consists of a building (pavilion), set in the memorial area or nearby, whose design does not harmonize with the objects displayed in the exhibition rooms inside (V. I. Lenin Shalash Memorial Museum, near the settlement of Razliv, near Leningrad; it includes a granite hut [1927, architect A. I. Gegello] and a pavilion made of granite, marble, and glass [1964, architects V. D. Kirkhoglani and others]). In open-air museums the link between architectural monuments and the natural terrain is the basic principle. The best sites for such museums are those that typify the national landscape. The layout of open-air museums strives to maintain local folk traditions of village planning and attempts to accurately reproduce homesteads, religious buildings, and defensive structures in the traditional style. Open-air museums also strive to provide maximum pleasure for the visitors. The architectural monuments themselves usually serve as the exhibitions (the Latvian Open-air Ethnographic Museum near Riga; the Museum-Preserve of Folk Wooden Architecture and Ethnology of the Karelian ASSR on the island of Kizhi).


Novye muzei (survey). Moscow, 1973. [Center of Scientific and Technical Information of Civil Construction and Architecture, series “ob-shchestvennye zdaniia.”]
Brawne, M. Neue Museen. Stuttgart, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about a museum?

Valuable ideas or inner gifts that need to be dusted off and brought out into the world are suggested by a museum. How the dreamer relates to a museum may reflect the ways in which they relate to their material possessions.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


An institution for the assembly and public display of any kind of collection, esp. one of rare and/or educational value.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Museums on the Web.
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