6 Types of Museums to Know About
Museums are an essential part of the cultural fabric of society. If you’ve been to more than one museum, chances are they were quite different, as each museum can be incredibly unique. In this article, we’re going to overview the different types of museums.
In addition to these broad types of museums, there are many kinds within each. Even two museums of the same genre can feel vastly different. Some museums also have some overlap in their function, so these definitions are not always strict lines.
The artist and journalist Maira Kalman once said, “A visit to a museum is a search for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. Go to museums as often as you can.”
Let’s dive into the world of museums to see all it has to offer.
1. Natural History and Natural Science Museums
Let’s start with natural history and natural science museums. These museums revolve around the natural world—their collections might include rocks, fossils, minerals, mammals, birds, plants, insects, and more.
Here are some famous natural history museums:
● The Natural History Museum (London, UK). This is the most visited natural science museum in Europe; highlights include a moon rock, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and much more.
● Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (Washington D.C., USA). The highlight of the museum is the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond.
2. Art Museums
The next category on our list of types of museums is focused on aesthetics: art museums. Typically art museums house paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and sometimes industrial arts. The display is of utmost importance at an art museum; exhibit designers and curators lay out each exhibition with intention and care for the optimal visitor experience and to highlight the artwork in the best way. Art museums may display paintings of the past, modern art, and/or contemporary art.
● Tate Modern (London, UK). Tate holds modern art (which is defined as art since 1900) and boasts artwork from world-famous artists such as Dalí, Warhol, Picasso, and more.
3. Science and Technology Museums
Science and technology museums focus on the application of scientific ideas in various fields, such as mathematics, astronomy, and chemistry. These museums are especially popular with children as they often feature demonstrations and interactive displays.
Here are some examples:
● National Air and Space Museum (Washington D.C., USA). This amazing museum houses artifacts, including the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia and the Wright brothers’ original airplane Wright Flyer.
● Deutsches Museum (Munich, Germany). The German museum receives around 1.5 million per year. Some highlights are exhibitions on mining and transportation.
4. History Museums
History museums encompass several different types of museums by themselves, which we will go over below. Since they address history broadly, history museums often have objects of nature and art in addition to historical artifacts. Oftentimes, history museums focus on a specific locality and region.
Here are some examples of history museums:
● National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, D.C., USA). This 10-story museum is the biggest institution dedicated to African American history in the world.
● Smithsonian National Museum of American History (Washington, D.C., USA). Also in D.C., the National Museum of American History follows the history of America from Colonial times. Artifacts range from Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers to George Washington’s uniform.
Here are more sub-categories of history museums worth noting:
● Historic house museums: These are museums set in houses that belonged to a famous person or where something famous happened; an example is the Mark Twain House in Connecticut.
● Open-air museums: Also known as a museum of buildings or a folk museum, an open-air museum is one that has a collection of buildings, is largely outdoors, and often focuses on rural life. Skansen is an open-air museum in Sweden.
● Living history museums: These are museums that recreate a time period and provide an interpretation of history. Living history is also typically present in open-air museums. An example is the Frontier Culture Museum in Virginia, USA.
● War and military museums: These often focus on history through war or military lenses. The Museum of Military History in Austria is an example.
● Maritime museums: These explore the maritime history of a region—for example, the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
5. Children's Museums
Children’s museums are a fascinating modern phenomenon. Like science museums, children’s museums prioritize interactivity but are specifically committed to serving children and often focus on developmental activities.
Some believe that children’s museums stretch the definition of a museum. If you visit one, you will likely experience a sort of playground in some areas of the institution. However, children’s museums are centered on the belief that play is learning and that, as citizens, children have the right to age-appropriate and high-quality learning experiences. They have existed since around 1900 but have become much more popular recently.
● Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA). This is the largest and fourth-oldest children’s museum in the world and receives over a million visitors every year.
● Papalote Museo del Niño (Mexico City, Mexico, USA). With over 288 interactive exhibitions, there is much for kids to explore, such as an outdoor archeology-themed garden with a prehispanic environment.
6. Virtual Museums
Another modern type of museum is the virtual museum, which exists completely online. Virtual museums might have collections of documents, sounds, images, or other data that a person can access with an electronic device. Virtual museums are often the digitized versions of brick-and-mortar museums. Again, for some, virtual museums stretch the idea of the museum.
● The digital version of the British Museum (London, England). On their website, you can walk through the museum and are even able to read the labels on the walls.
● The Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam, Netherlands) also has a Google Street View option where you can explore the art-filled halls.
In Conclusion: The Many Museums of the World
There are, of course, many more museums for each of these categories, even in just one city alone. As you can tell, there is overlap with types of museums, particularly in regard to history museums. However, from the Icelandic Turf House open-air museum to the expansive 400-room Louvre, they all have important roles in safeguarding artifacts, communicating ideas, and educating visitors.