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Leicester Special Collections

The History of Museums

Museums have a long and illustrious history. In the ancient world, exhibitions were held at Alexandra of ‘astronomical and surgical instruments’ and Greek temples too displayed ‘aesthetic, historic, religious and magical’ objects.[1]  Despite a relative silence in terms of things that could be called early museums/ exhibitions during the Medieval period, it was during the renaissance and 17th century that museums and collections began to take their first steps towards what we know today.[2] During these formative years, important institutions within the United Kingdom such as The Royal Armouries in the Tower of London (1592/1660), The Ashmolean (1677) and The British Museum (1753) were all established for the first time, allowing members of the public in to see the objects and art work.[3] However, as we shall see, it was in the 19th century that the founding and establishing of museums experienced a boom. The key question of this section is why were these museums set up?

[1] Edward P. Alexander and Mary Alexander, Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums, (Plymouth: AltaMira Press, 2008), pp. 3-4.

[2] Ibid. p. 6.

[3] Museums.EU, The World’s Oldest Museums, <> [accessed 9/8/2017]

The History of Museums