What is a Museum?

There are different understandings about what constitutes a museum. This contested term is used to describe national institutions, online collections, and even commercial shops. For some people, the word museum conjures up large buildings resembling Greek temples that both preserve and display important cultural and historical objects. Yet museums often take diverse forms, including open-air sites, or are less tangible and exist exclusively on the World Wide Web. The notion of a museum can also be philosophical, referring to a set of lofty ideals that encourage good taste, citizenship, or national pride instead of something as concrete as a building full of labelled objects. On a more prosaic level, the museum has been referred to both as a temporary storage area, and a set of practices meant to increase the value of selected objects through strategic acts of exchange. However defined, the museum has always been involved in the creation of economic and cultural value.
After considering different understandings of the term museum, the Museums in Small Town and Rural Alberta research team decided to focus primarily on site-specific collections that display materials to the public with educational goals in mind. This working definition of a museum helped us make decisions but nevertheless remains flexible and open to challenge. If you think our map lacks an important museum in small town or rural Alberta, please let us know. We are not trying to represent every single Albertan museum on this site, but we are interested in learning about as many as possible for our study.
Why Study Museums?