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Leicester Special Collections

Museums and the Community

What is a Community?

Here are some example definitions of what those working in and studying museums define as a community.

Davies: ‘an almost meaningless expression’[1]

Watson and Kavanagh: ‘sense of belonging that comes to those who are part of it’[2]

Mason: [3]

1) ‘communities denied by shared historical or cultural experiences’

2) ‘communities denied by their specialist knowledge’

3) ‘communities denied by demographic/ socio-economic factors’

4) ‘communities denied by identities (national, regional, local or ralting to sexuality, disability, age and gender)

5) ‘communities denied by their visiting practices’

6) ‘communities denied by their exclusion from other communities’

Linda Harding Oral History recording:  

Linda Harding Oral History Interview - Community, 2017

How would you define a community?

What is a museum’s role in the community?

There have been many recent projects within the museum and heritage world such as Museums 20/20 and Our Museum which have put emphasis on making the museum a place which not only represents the community, but is a place where the ‘needs, values, aspirations and active collaboration of and with the community are ‘at the core of their work’.[4] The idea of the ‘traditional museum approach of keeping one’s head down’ and continuing on collecting, preserving and researching is no longer an ok strategy for a modern museums to take.[5] Museums need to adapt to the outside world and be relevant to all individuals.[6]

Linda Harding’s description of her work is testament to this frame of mind.

Linda Harding Oral History Interview - Job Description, 2017

Bulletin

Bulletin, 1942

From reading current museum theory, it would be understandable to see why many would view this desire to represent the community and to fulfil their desires and needs to be a relatively modern movement. But a bulletin from Leicester Museum in 1942 shows the exact same sentiment. 

This section will look specifically at how museums reflect their community, with focus on the Festival of Britain and Leicester and its ethnically diverse population, within their collections and exhibitions.


[1] Sheila Watson, ‘Museum Communities in theory and practice ‘, in Sheila Watson (Ed), Museum and the communities (New York: Routledge, 2007), p. 3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. p. 4

[4] Our Museum, <http://ourmuseum.ning.com/>, [accessed 9/10/2016].

[5] David Fleming, ‘The Essence of the Museum: Mission, Values and Vision’, Conal McCarthy, The International Handbooks of Museum Studies: Museum Practice (1st ed), (John Wiley &Sons, Ltd., 2015), p. 7.

[6] Ibid.