Research Week - The Reconstruction of Museums in the Late 19th Century in England: Formation of A Museum Community

Masanori's interests focus around the development processes of museums, especially focussing upon the role of professional associations such as the Museums Association, and how these associations are brought into being. It's great to see him compare the UK and Japan, which are both island nations, with all the attendant peculiarities which this brings. Interestingly, museum associations began to develop in both countaries around the same time - the period bookended by 1880 and 1930.

The main body of Masanori's presentation focusses around the background to the development of the Museums Association in Britain. In the 19th century, museums multiplied, often at the instigation of local societies or private individuals. There was no real central organisation, and, as Jevons wrote, the 'evil effects of the multiplicity of objects' was seen to prevail.

In 1893, Flower, the third president of the MA espoused the idea of the 'New Museum', based upon the advancement of scientific study and the education of the general public. There is a link here to the rational management strategies which were gaining credence in the 19th century. Museums played a crucial role in the educational milleiux of the Victorian Era. There was an upsurge of municipally run museums, a growing interest in visitors, and an increasing professionalisation of the curatorial role.

The desire for centralised co-operation was made obvious as early as 1877 in the journal Nature. A preliminary meeting was held at York in 1888, and the MA was officially formed the following year. Henry Higgins (what a great name, no singing now...) was the first president - he was a museums practitioner from Liverpool.

The MA had a number of problems from the start, not the least of which was a definate bias towards the natural sciences. By 1928, it was recognised that the association was not fulfilling the role that it should. The Mier's report of that year showed that membership was low, and that the actions of the Association were doing little, if anything, to improve the lot of curators and members. In 1929 he was elected president - and this saw in a new period of reform.

Masanori's coming research will focus upon the historical development of the Association of Japanese Museums, and its precurser the Museum Work Promotion Association, which was formed in 1928. There are a strong number of similarities between the Museums sectors in Japan and the UK. Both, as mentioned above, are island nations with an imperialist history, and both have similar economic and political systems. But they do differ. The growth of museums in the UK was very much based around the actions of individuals and 'unofficial' groups, whereas in Japan, the growth was impelled far more by government interests.

I'm looking forward to seeing where Masanori's research takes him. It should be really interesting, from a historical perspective, to compare the two societies, and to see what we can learn about the resultant nature of the museum sector today. Well done Masanori!


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