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A Comprehensive Guide to the Different Types of Museums

dinoc October 1, 2019

Regardless of age or education level, museums are a great place for everyone to learn something new. Museums tell stories that span centuries and house artifacts from around the world—they preserve the history that may have otherwise become lost in the mists time. There are many different types of museums, each impacting society in its own way. No matter your area of interest, you’re sure to find something intriguing when you step inside a museum.

History Museums

Natural history museums

Of the different types of museums, natural history museums are perhaps the most well-known. These museums preserve and display rare artifacts which often date back hundreds of years. Although classified as a history museum, the artifacts and exhibits can greatly impact the scientific community. The artifacts in natural history museums often serve as specimens for scientific research before they’re put on display. Generally, these exhibits include various preserved flora and fauna. Curators often organize them according to genus and species or region in which they commonly reside. Some natural history museums will also include exhibits that take a more historical approach. These often describe the life of humans during a specific time period. One of the most well-known natural history museums is the American Museum of Natural History, located in New York City. If you’re interested in exploring the wonders of the world at this famed natural history museum in New York, tickets are available here.

Heritage museums

Heritage museums focus more on the lifestyle and traditions of particular cultural groups or locations. Some museums may focus on a certain historical period, such as the National World War II Museum, or cultural groups, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Others may focus on the history and culture of a particular city, such as the Chicago History Museum. The artifacts and exhibits are often more specialized, offering visitors a deeper understanding of a particular subject. These heritage museums, also known as cultural centers, tend to include more interactive exhibits than many public or natural history museums. This allows visitors to better understand the culture and traditions of the chosen group, location, or time period.

Biographical museums

Much like heritage museums, biographical museums offer a specialized experience. However, biographical museums generally focus their studies on the history and artifacts of a singular individual. Exhibits in this type of museum often include items that once belonged to the chosen historical figure or artifacts that represent their impact on history. These museums typically originate inside the former home of the individual, allowing visitors to truly immerse themselves in history and experience life as the historical figure once had. The Anne Frank House, located in Amsterdam, is perhaps one of the most famous biographical museums in the world. Located in the same canal house in which the Frank family once hid, this museum features photos of the family and excerpts from Anne Frank’s diary. Visitors will also find reflections on Anne Frank’s impact on history from other famous figures throughout history.

Science museums

Technology museums

Technology museums are the place to be for individuals enamored with the study of mechanics and engineering. From steam engines to smartphones, these museums provide an in-depth analysis of how far technology has come and its impact on society throughout history. Popular exhibits in technology museums include the study of transportation, often relating to the evolution of trains and automobiles. Other well-known displays include an overview of technology’s impact on communication, ranging from telegraphs to telephones to texting. Technology museums may also include specialized exhibits which focus on the impact of technology on certain industries, such as mining, media, or manufacturing.

Air and space museums

While many museums focus on the past, space and aviation museums look toward the future. These museums, sometimes called aerospace museums, focus on the history of flight and the many possibilities of future aviation. This type of museum often houses models or dioramas of famous aircraft and aviation equipment, detailing the evolution of flight throughout history. Some even allow visitors to walk through scale replicas of airplanes, helicopters, and spacecraft. In addition to housing unique artifacts, some air and space museums may also have a planetarium or exhibits related to the history of space exploration. At the planetarium, guests can enjoy a spectacular light show, often discussing the history and study of our solar system. Many planetariums also host an exploration of popular constellations and their meanings throughout history and across various cultures as well.

Art museums

Modern art museums

While it may seem contradictory, it is at modern art museums that you will find the works of classical painters such as Degas, Monet, and Van Gogh. While modern art museums typically focus their galleries on art dating between the 1860s and 1970s, they occasionally display art created before these time periods. Museum curators will generally organize the exhibits according to art movement and style. This allows visitors to gradually follow the evolution of art. Travel from the soft tones common in impressionism paintings, through the distorted and colorful pictures of expressionism, and into the bold statements and experimental drawings of cubism and abstract art.

Contemporary art museums

Contemporary art museums, on the other hand, are home to today’s art. Contemporary art draws inspiration from diverse global and cultural influences as well as the advancements of modern society. Art by famous painters from the 1970s to present day, such as Jeff Koons, find a home at contemporary art museums. Contemporary art often includes mediums outside of painting, such as photography and sculpture, to create a more accurate representation of modern society. Many contemporary art exhibits also feature abstract or interactive art installations, allowing the viewer to interpret their own meaning for the piece.

Interactive Museums

Open-air museums

Open-air museums break down the walls of traditional museums and take the educational experience outdoors for a truly immersive adventure. This type of museum usually consists of different buildings, often designed to replicate a specific historical period or civilization. Visitors can freely wander between buildings and interact with employees costumed according to the specific period. These reenactors are highly knowledgeable and provide visitors with an authentic experience of what it was like to live during a certain era. Open-air museums often include presentations of skills or trades that were common during a specific time period, such as blacksmithing, woodcarving, weaving, and farming.

Children’s museums

It’s never too early to foster a love of learning. Children’s museums create an immersive environment for kids of all ages to feed their minds and explore the world around them in a fun and safe way. Many children’s museums place strong importance on curiosity and creativity, encouraging kids to tap into their imagination and think critically about the world. In addition to the colorful and immersive exhibits that are popular in these museums, children’s museums often also offer additional programs and performances to aid in the education of children. Storytime, theatrical performances, and interactive science displays are some of the more common programs offered. Whereas many museums maintain a hands-off policy, children’s museums encourage visitors to look, touch, play, laugh, and enjoy every exhibit as fully as possible.

A Comprehensive Guide to the Different Types of Museums infographic