Museums: More Behind What They Show


Prem Khatry



This is an age of knowledge and information. If these two important sources of personality formation can be had in the package of entertainment, what else can one aspire for? Not much really. The museum in discussion here does the job skillfully, effectively and with lasting impression.

The statute of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) provides the definition of museums in several Articles of its constitution. One such definition goes like this: 'A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.'

The history of museum is checkered, to say the least. Some of the early Greek and Roman rulers believed that artistic creations, man-made items used in offerings to gods were important objects to be preserved and viewed by the public. Different nations and continents have different stories to tell about the history and development of their museums. This brief write-up cannot accommodate all the descriptions. What is clear from a survey of the history of museum across the world is that growth of higher educational institutions, wars and major changes in the history or a nation, and people's interest in collected things have contributed significantly to the development of a museum.

Over the time museum has changed and expanded its definition, form, function and the role. Many famous universities, cultures and people began to establish museum to promote - a) education and research, b) their identity and interest to provide entertainment and c) tourism and development. Famous museums in UK, USA, France, Germany and Russia have been major attractions for tourists and researchers alike. They also have success stories in terms of sustainability. Space museums, maritime museums, natural history museums, science museums, ethnic museums, among several other varieties, have attracted visitors in recent decades.

Subject wise also there are museums having paintings, sculptures, ancient manuscripts, classic dresses and ornaments, other accessories presenting life style and vocations of the people of early days.  On-site museums like the thousands of terracotta figures found in China few decades ago represent human genius for creation. Stonehenge in UK and huge stone carvings – caves (India) or and sculptures in Latin America and Europe present wonders for the viewers. The Great Wall of China can also be called a live museum.

Museum in Nepal

Nepal has a six plus decade long history of museum. There are different category museums in Kathmandu although the 2015 quake has made some of them temporarily inaccessible. The latest development after the regional concept of museum and museum education in universities is that people's interest in opening museums at the local level to demonstrate their historic-cultural identity has grown. These are basically 'collection' than full-fledged museums as one understands the meaning and function of a 'museum.' But what is important is that they also function as storehouse of knowledge and information for the people concerned and others who visit them and share the information the objects provide.

Nepal is known worldwide for her diverse cultures spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. Each community, big or small, has a  history and ways of life unique and special. Therefore, with some systematic and scientific ways of presenting the main aspects of both tangible and intangible culture would enhance the existing knowledge about diversity and promote unity. The State can play vital role in honoring people's cultures through its support in people's plan to share their culture through local museums.  Some people have already started such exhibitions and named them 'museum.' Tharu, Lepcha, and few others are examples.                                                                                                                  

The government started a huge project to establish an 'ethnic and live' museum in Machhegaon, behind Kirtipur. This has been an appreciable move to safeguard the cultural mosaic the country is known for. But thus far the museum has not taken a shape. The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) made another move to establish such a museum or revamp the existing one to make it a live museum and a research center with academic facilities and responsibilities. The draft of the concept paper prepared and submitted by experts is now sitting at MoCTCA. Once implemented, the proposed museum can add a milestone in the history of museum development in Nepal.

Museum education

A recent development in this sector is the beginning of Museology at MA level by the Lumbini Bouddha University. This is a very welcome and appreciable step taken by LBU. At TU one small course is there but its status is optional.

The Department of Archaeology (DOA) of Nepal is also receiving concept and application papers to open local, community and culture based museums. Giving approval is not enough as it requires scientific planning and guarantee of its sustainability. Yet, encouraging people to collect objects and give them a place and shape is necessary before they disappear from views and use. Local people, schools, students and youth groups and organizations can help build such a facility that can be an important icon of identity later. 

One important fact to be noted here is that museums are more than what they show for public views. Each item exhibited has a story to tell. Each item has information to share and education to impart. This is the reason why in may nations there are museums supported by communities called 'Friends of the Museum.' We can take this as an example and build strong support system for the museums at the local level.

Finally, ICOM is organizing an international seminar on the broad theme – Museum in the aftermath of earthquake.' This event will focus on different aspects of museum as an integral part of culture and civilization and more specifically museum function in a crisis like the one Nepal had due to the Mega quake of 2015. The international team of experts will have firsthand knowledge of the impact of the quake and will share their experience as to how museums should function as part of Nepali culture. 


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