Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Comparative Analysis

The word museum derives from the word muse, which means to “cogitate, mediate, dream, ponder, contemplate, and deliberate[1].” Muse comes from the mythological Greek muses, the nine daughters of Zeus who “presided over arts and learning, including history, epic and lyric poetry, music, tragedy, dance, comedy, astronomy, and religious music,” and is the basis for the Greek word mouseion, or “place of the Muses[2].” Dating back to ancient Rome and Alexandria, Egypt, works of art and historical objects have been preserved, which can be argued were the first museums. The word museum itself was not used to describe a collection until the Renaissance, however, in fifteenth century Florence[3]. Museums and historic sites compare internationally in how they function. From the history, different comparisons and contrasts can be made. The museums and historic sites of the United States have several similarities and differences than those of Spain.

From these developments, the first museums became established throughout Europe, including Spain. The International Council of Museums, or ICOM, defines a museum as “a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, and open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits for the purposes of study, education and enjoyment, material evidence of people and their environment[4].” Museums began internationally in the fifteenth century as collections of art and objects held by the church or wealthy families in Europe[5]. These early types of collections became known as “cabinets of curiosity” or “cabinets of the world,” without a set structure or organization and were mainly signifying the importance of the owner[6]. This changed in the sixteenth century with gallerie or galleries of pictures and sculptures and gabinetti or cabinets of natural history collections in Italy[7]. In 1671 the first university museum was established in Basel, Switzerland[8]. These developed more in depth into what are now considered museums today. Museums in a much larger, organized scale began around the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Europe. While mostly private collections for the noble and social elite, the first public museum in England, Ashmolean, opened in 1683 at Oxford University and was followed by the opening of the British Museum in 1759 in London[9]. Even though these were considered to be public museums, they had limited accessibility and limited number of visitors per day. For example, the British Museum did not become open to the public on a daily basis until 1879[10]. The nineteenth century began an increase in accessibility, which resulted in a higher museum attendance. The Louvre in Paris (est. 1793), the Prado in Madrid (est. 1819), and the National Museum for Greek Antiquities in Aegina (est. 1829), were some of the first museums to be open to the public in the nineteenth century[11]. Historic sites and preservation began to emerge as well. Throughout Europe, museums and historic sites became established and open to the public.

Contrastingly, museum beginnings in the United States differed from that of Europe. The American Alliance of Museums, or the AAM, defines a museum as an “organized and permanent non-profit institution, essentially educational or aesthetic in purpose, with professional staff, which owns and utilizes tangible objects, cares for them, and exhibits them to the public on some regular schedule[12].” The first museums began more as public museums proceeded by private museums. In the late eighteenth century, the first developing museums were “collections of miscellaneous materials displayed largely for society’s elite,” where in 1773 the first museum open to the public was established in Charleston South Carolina[13]. In 1841, P.T. Barnum opened the traveling American Museum in New York in 1841, which developed into the Barnum and Bailey Circus, still in existence today[14]. The main goal was to “display natural curiosities” as “scholarly exhibitions” and it became known as one of the first museums in the United States[15]. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries emphasized public and educational collections as the primary goal of museums and historic sites[16]. This stressed the need for scholarly research and education in universities, academies, and societies. In the second half of the twentieth century to the present, the emphasis has slightly shifted to “attract visitors, popularize their programs, and provide services for the disadvantaged and for special audiences[17].”   

Comparatively, the United States and Spain have similar structures of how museums and historic sites function. Each museum and historic site has a mission statement, which tells the goals and functions of the location. Typically, on staff there is a director of the museum or historic site, and a combination of an associate director, archivist, collections manager, curator, conservator, exhibit designer, education coordinator, and volunteer coordinator to name a few, depending on the size and needs of the museum or site. This holds true for both the United States and Spain. For instance, the Acueducto de Segovia, Catedral de Segovia, Museo de Segovia, Alcázar de Segovia, and Iglesia de Vera Cruz are all overseen by the Office of Tourism in Segovia. Similarly, the Prado and the Reina Sofia museums are located under the Spanish Ministry of Culture.

      Oppositely, the United States and Spain have different approaches to how their museums and historic sites are presented. As noted before, the United States has an educational-based approach background that is translated into many historic sites and museums. This is reflected by exhibits and informative histories of what is viewed. In Spain, there is more of a hands-off approach to displaying historic sites and museums. When comparing the Prado Museum to the Detroit Institute of Arts in Michigan, these contrasts can be assessed. Covering prehistory through the 21st century, the Detroit Institute of Arts (D.I.A.) is among the top six art museum collections in the United States with more than one hundred galleries[18]. The Prado contains over 8,000 artworks and is home to the most comprehensive collection of Spanish art worldwide[19]. Both are notable museums, but reflect the different approaches to museums of the different countries. The D.I.A’s mission is to create an experience to “help each visitor find personal meaning in art,” and has informative text next to each piece on exhibit[20]. This is a direct reflection of the United States view of an educational exhibition approach. The Prado, on the other hand, while it does have text panels with names of the artwork, is more open to the visitor’s interpretation and is more barrier-free. These differences can also be applied to historic sites. The Alcázar de Segovia, a historic castle in Segovia, has a very different atmosphere compared to that of the Lincoln Home, a United States national historic site in Illinois. The castle part of the Alcázar de Segovia itself is very open, barrier-free, and without many labels. A visitor can freely walk the different rooms and halls. The Lincoln Home contrastingly is only open to the public through ranger-led tours, with a detailed tour emphasizing both the house and President Abraham Lincoln’s early life and presidential campaign[21]. Both historic sites have different approaches to exhibition, which is reflective of their respective countries. More examples throughout Spanish historical sites and museums are the Escorial Monastery, the Valley of the Fallen Monument, and the Granja de San Ildefonso.  All display little information on exhibit, but information can be found in the brochures. The same can be said for both Tenerife Island and the city of Toledo. Both the island and the city are historical sites that can be viewed with minimal display, which further illustrates the Spanish approach.

Overall, there are similarities and differences between the management of museums and historic sites in Spain and the United States. Going back to the founding of these in both countries illustrates the developmental differences between the two. While the United States has a more educational based system, Spain as a whole has a more informative viewing approach. The two share several similarities and differences.

Works Cited
“About theDIA.” dia.org. Detroit Institute of Arts, 2015. http://www.dia.org/about/history.aspx. (accessed 27 January 2015).
Alexander, Edward P., Mary Alexander. Museums in Motion. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2008.
Glaser, Jane R. Museums: A Place to Work. New York: Routledge, 1996.
“Lincoln Home Tour.” nps.gov. National Parks Service, 2015. http://www.nps.gov/liho/planyourvisit/lincoln-home-tour.htm (accessed 12 January 2015).
“Museums and Art Centres.” esmadrid.com. MADRID DESTINO CULTURA TURISMO Y NEGOCIO, 2014. http://www.esmadrid.com/en/prado-museum. (accessed 6 April 2014).

[1] Jane R. Glaser, Museums: A Place to Work (New York: Routledge, 1996) 10.
[2] Ibid. p. 10
[3] Ibid. p. 11
[4]  Edward P. Alexander, Mary Alexander, Museums in Motion (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2008) 2.
[5] Glaser, Museums: A Place to Work, 11.
[6] Ibid. p. 11
[7] Ibid. p. 11
[8] Ibid. p. 11
[9] Ibid. p. 11
[10] Ibid. p. 11
[11] Ibid. p. 12
[12] Ibid. p. 2
[13] Alexander, Museums in Motion, 12.
[14] Ibid. p. 14
[15] Ibid. p. 13
[16] Ibid. p. 14
[17] Ibid. p. 21
[18] “About theDIA,” dia.org. Detroit Institute of Arts, 2015, http://www.dia.org/about/history.aspx (accessed 12 January 2015).
[19] “Museums and Art Centres,” esmadrid.com. MADRID DESTINO CULTURA TURISMO Y NEGOCIO, 2014, http://www.esmadrid.com/en/prado-museum (accessed 6 April 2014).
[20] “About theDIA,” dia.org. Detroit Institute of Arts, 2015.
[21] “Lincoln Home Tour,” nps.gov. National Parks Service, 2015, http://www.nps.gov/liho/planyourvisit/lincoln-home-tour.htm (accessed 12 January 2015).