Museums as Institutions of Identity

Seminar Paper, 2015

10 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Content


The Ben M´Sik Community Museum

Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Ruhr Valley

Museums in the Gulf Region




Museums are cultural, educational and civic centers of communities. In the past museums served only a small group of people. Furthermore a lot of the museums in the past saw their mission in lecturing and educating their visitors with the exhibition of objects. But this role of museums has changed in the last years. Due to demographic changes in the societies the museum serves, they are now in a situation where they have to compete with other institutions like zoos or cinemas. Potential visitors can choose nowadays how to spend their leisure time. In order to further guarantee financial income a lot of museums have adapted strategies of the area of business + economy. The developed marketing strategies and frameworks to measure success and accountability.1

But even more important are the changes museums made and are still making regarding to their mission and their interaction with the surrounding community. Museums nowadays are moving away from the old habit of teaching their visitor in a static and lecturing way. Instead they focus on aspects like participation and the involvement of their visitors. Additionally they began to outreach for other institutions like schools or universities to provide a worthy educational experience for both sides. The present museums must reflect the voices, needs and interests of the communities they serve, in order to survive. Therefore museums are evolving away from being isolated islands of teaching to places of gathering and exchange. They become forums that not just display objects but also invite discussions, evoke concerns and foster ideas like critical thinking within their community. It is obvious that the way how museums interact with their community has become broader and not necessarily easier to articulate. But what are communities? Usually a community is a group of people that shares a physical space like a room, a city or a country. Furthermore a community can also share certain traits, characteristics or ideals. Communities can interact which each other and establish a certain social identity. It becomes visible that communities are not closed entities, they are open constructs that are connected with other communities in various ways.2

This paper is going to focus on the impact that museums can have on the identity of a community. In order to do so, 3 examples shall be shortly presented, which will highlight the role of the museum regarding questions about the identity of communities and which role museums have.

The Ben M´sik Community Museum

The Ben M´sik Community Museum (BMCM) in Morocco is the first of the examples that shall be analyzed in this paper regarding the aspects of identity and museums. In order to do so it is necessary to give a short overview about the history of museums in Morocco. In 1995 Morocco´s government published a degree that changed the view of the state regarding its museums. It defined museums as cultural institutions with defined objects, which have the mission to acquire, inventory, maintain, preserve and display the cultural heritage. This heritage can be of historical, ethnographic, artistic, scientific or technical value. Nevertheless the majority of the museums in Morocco failed in their attempt to fulfill this mission, because the degree did nothing to change the view that the citizens had of their museums. The majority of the museums were still unwelcoming and lifeless institutions which evoke more the impression of a depository than a museum. Additionally they were mainly planned for foreign visitors and tourists, leaving out local communities. This exclusion of the Moroccan public from their own cultural heritage resulted in artificial museums without any identity. They were removed from the context of their environment and of their community.3

Azhor sees this state of the Moroccan museums as the logical consequence for a museum without sufficient funds. Museums become nothing more than warehouses that store objects and remind more of the museums of the old colonial times. In order to prevent this development museums have to evolve. Just the displaying of objects may be enough to attract foreign visitors, but this attempt is going to fail when it comes to serve their local community.4

The BMCM can be seen as example for a successful concept regarding museums and identity. The museum was established in 2006 and is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Casablanca. The museum has the goal to interpret, promote and exhibit the stories of the diverse populations of the neighborhood. The focus lays on the all-day lives of the ordinary people that are living there, the local community.5

The BMCM in Casablanca was therefore able to construct a form of identity within that Community. The people of the neighborhood became aware of their cultural heritage and started to embrace and celebrate it. A supporting factor was the cooperation of the museums with various social programs that sought to improve the life of the residents of Ben M´sik. Because when the surrounding community is struggling with surviving they cannot profit from museums and the experience they offer. One of those projects was called Cities without Slums which sought to get rid of the slum areas in the neighborhood. The project was successful and improved the living conditions of the inhabitants nearby. Nevertheless with the disappearing of the slums also this certain part of the neighborhood´s identity disappeared. This shows that identity is a moving construct that transforms all the time. Museums, in order to create and present an identity, have to reflect and adapt to this change.6


1 Bonnie Pitman, “Muses, Museums and Memories”, Daedalus 128 (1999): 1.

2 Samir El zhar, The Ben M´sik Community Museum”. In Museums in a Global Context. National Identity, International Understanding, ed. Jennifer W. Dickey (Washington: The AAM Press, 2013)

3 Ibid., 26.

4 Ibid., 28.

5 Ibid., 31.

6 Ibid., 33.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Museums as Institutions of Identity
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
682 KB
Museum, Identity, Community
Quote paper
B.A. Fabian Lukas (Author), 2015, Museums as Institutions of Identity, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Museums as Institutions of Identity

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free