History Museums

museums are the ultimate educator . . . helping us understand our past so we can better shape our future.

Story by Kathryn R. Burke
All content ©San Juan Publishing Group, Inc, All rights reserved.

[SW Colorado] MUSEUMS ARE REPOSITORIES OF LIVING HISTORY; in this fast-paced world we live in, we need them now more than ever before. The stories they tell help us understand our past so we can better shape our future. Museums are the ultimate educator. They teach us about ourselves, our planet, our very existence since the beginning of time. Museums communicate “the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment.”(1)

The first museums were likely private collections of wealthy families and may have included art, artifacts, natural objects, or other items considered rare or unusual. The oldest public museums appeared in Rome during the Renaissance (2), and most of those had a religious basis, such as the Vatican Museums (second oldest museum in the world).

Because their mission is to protect and preserve historic objects, most museums follow a strict “no touch” policy. Visitors may view items on exhibit, but can’t come in direct contact with them. And because much of what is on display is rare and expensive, elaborate security measures are in place to further protect the museum’s inventory.

Many of today’s museums, however, encourage hands-on learning through interactive exhibits. These have been especially successful with children. Instead of being dragged around dim corridors filled shelves stuffed with dusty objects, kids get to play while they learn.

Most museums are non-profit organizations, meaning they depend on endowments, donations, public funding, member dues, and limited gift shop sales to cover their overhead and expenses.

When somebody mentions “museum” you might think immediately of that old brick building downtown that somebody “gave” to the city so it could display a bunch of old photographs, books, and old furniture labeled “antiques.” In a bigger city, “museum” could mean a large building filled with framed paintings and sculpture, all of it out of reach and under guard. And just down the street might be a warehouse-sized edifice filled with old airplanes. And you’d be right all three times. Museums come in all sizes and categories, some dedidated to a particular subject, such as art, science, or history. Others may be more specific, such as modern art, historic aviation, mining geology.

Here in western Colorado, many of our museums are dedicated to our own history: mining, ranching, railroads, mountain biking, and Native American culture. We have art museums to, and interactive science exhibits, and museums sharing other collections. Whatever their subject, “museums enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning, and enjoyment.” (3)

If you are associated with museum in western Colorado or the adjacent Four Corners area that you would like included, or would like to submit an article about your facility, please contact our editor.

Story Footnotes
(1) International Council of Museums
(2) History of Museums, Wikipedia
(3) UK Museums Association.

Related Links
Colorado Colorado History & Heritage
Denver Public Library

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