Welcome to module 1

Learning Objectives


Module 1 will give you a broad introduction to museums, from their ancient past to the modern iteration. Our instructors will introduce the particular histories of different kinds of museums, as they each have their own specific trajectories.

At the end of this lesson students will be able to:

  • describe the modern definition of a museum
  • name at least one major historical development impacting museums

lecture THEMES

Museums from Ancient to Modern Times

The history of museums is longer than you might think.

Watch this first presentation by instructor Angela Linn, to be introduced to the 2000 year history of museums, from ancient to modern times. (24:01)

Cabinet of Curiosities: Intents and Legacies

Josh Reuther discusses the social contexts, purposes and legacies of the cabinets of curiosity movement and the transition to more systematic and institutionalized collecting, along with interpretations as to how we portray ourselves in the present. (22:40)

Brief History of Natural History Museums and Herbaria

Watch this brief overview of the history of natural history museums and herbaria by Steffi Ickert-Bond highlighting some of the developments in exploration, globalization and science that led to the continued evolution of natural history museums. (14:05)


We will be using a lot of vocabulary in this course that you may not be familiar with. Take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary for this class.

  1. Gallery (Italian: galleria)
  2. Cabinet  (Italian: gabinetto / German: Wunderkammer – cabinet of wonder)
  3. Collections
  4. Museum (Greek: mouseion)
  5. Docent
  6. Conservation
  7. Repository
  8. Exhibit
  9. Exhibition
  10. Herbarium
  11. Natural history museum

Activities / Assignments

Reading / video content



Museopunks Episode 39: A new definition of “museum”? (podcast)

The Brain Scoop: “What is a Museum” (3:04)



For exploration:


Log into our course shell in Canvas and go to ‘Quizzes’ on the left side menu.

Take ‘Quiz 1: Vocabulary relating to the history of museums’.

You will have up to three attempts to match the vocabulary and definitions. Click over to Canvas to take quiz 1.

Meet Up

There will be no Meet Up during the first week of classes. Be sure to write your post on the discussion question below! We will discuss the History of Museums at the Meet Up for module 2.


What is a museum?  

  1. Create a new post on this website and answer this question based on your personal experience. Your post should be roughly 500 words and should include an image.  Think about material this week and personal experiences you have had to help illustrate your ideas of the ideal museum. Alternately, find a recent news article to share about a museum, what are some of your thoughts relating to the article.
  2. At the end of your post, include a question for your fellow students to answer.
  3. Respond to each others’ posts (you will need to respond to/comment on at least two other posts) highlighting or discussing some of their key findings or view points.
  4. Select “1. History Discussion” from the list of discussion categories on the right hand side of your posting window on the dashboard.

Looking Forward

Next week we’ll look at different ways to categorize museums and the divisions within them.

Did you know?

Sue's skull
Source: Wikipedia

Fun tidbit not to be tested on.

Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus skeleton ever found, was going to be put in a private collection before companies including Disney and McDonald’s helped fund the Field Museum’s effort to purchase her for display to the public. — Source