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The shape of things to come: museums in the technological landscape

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journal contribution
posted on 2006-07-12, 09:43 authored by Simon J. Knell
Since the mid-1980s, museum directors have understood that the key to their success lies in how well they manage change within their organisations. The large political and economic swings of the final decades of that century demonstrated to museums in many parts of the world that they had no assurance of a future unless they could demonstrate strong and cost effective, socially and politically endorsed, benefit. The history of museums demonstrates that this has always been so: the combination of precarious museum funding and continual change has led to erratic fortunes (Knell 1996; 2000; 2001; 2004). Yet every generation has held optimistic beliefs about the future: ‘We may fairly presume, that the most liberal support will be given to an Institution, so well calculated to promote the credit and advantage of the town, and the intellectual improvement of its inhabitants, not only in the present day but in future ages’ (Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society 1826). In the present age, one such vision comes to us from Europe. It pictures a world altered by technologies, but within which museums have a new and critical role. It is a vision worthy of closer attention as this future is destined to engulf us all, and with its cultural diversity, social complexity, established heritage and not inconsiderable investment in technological research, Europe’s concerns and experiences are likely to be widely shared. It also provides an opportunity to ask questions about how a sector of society formulates a vision of the future, what makes this vision plausible and useful, and then what history tells us about its likelihood of coming to fruition. (This is the introduction to the article)



Museum and Society, 2003, 1(3), pp. 132-146

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