Monday, April 15, 2013

Musing about Museums

by Erin Doane, Curator

A museum is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited.  But museums are so much more than that.  They are places of inspiration.  Museum is Latin for library or study.  The Latin is derived from the earlier Greek mouseion which is defined as a place of study, library or museum, school of art or poetry.  Literally a museum is "a seat or shrine of the Muses" – mousa being Greek for muse.

In Greek mythology the Muses were nine divine daughters of Zeus (the king of the gods) and Mnemosyne (the goddess of memory).  They were goddesses of inspiration in the arts.  Each of the nine had their own domain from various types of poetry and music, to history and astronomy.
Anyone wishing to create a dramatic play or a love poem appealed to one of the Muses to bless them with inspiration.

As a seat of the Muses, a museum should be a place of inspiration, not just a storehouse and showroom for the artifacts of our community.  We here at the Chemung Valley History Museum tell the stories of the people and places of this area as a way to get visitors thinking about history and how it is part of their lives.  We strive to inspire our visitors, not just educate and entertain them.  If we inspire awe in a child seeing a mastodon tusk for the first time in real life or inspire sympathy in those reading the stories of Civil War soldiers, we have done our job.  While I do not call on Clio the Muse of history and make a sacrificial offering every time I install a new exhibit, a little part of me does hope that she is smiling down on us.

comments from visitors about our tusk

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