Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum (MOOC)

I signed up for this short six week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) course as it appears to fit so well with where I am in my MA; that is, fully focussed on curation and exhibiting.

Week 1: Museums defined
The presentations introduced (and bigged up) the University of Leicester and the National Museums Liverpool and introduced some of the purposes of Museums.

Offering people a sense of history and context and acting as a place to reflect  

The issue of neutrality came up – but was not resolved. I don’t think anything is ever value neutral or objective. Rather everything offers a particular perspective – even museums!

We were then asked to list three words we associate with Museums and consider the following:

  • Do they refer to museums as buildings, exhibition spaces, or to museum objects/artefacts? All of these? Something else?
  • Do they best describe your view of museums of the past, museums of today, or the possibilities of museums in the future?
  • Can you identify a time in your life when you may have formed those associations?

It was interesting to compare my words against everyone else’s views. Mine were:

  • quiet, valuable, interesting

Some of the others that caught my eye were:

  • immersion, interactive, lost, history, sharing, wonder, presentation, representation and memory.

A tag cloud will be produced at the end of the week that should be interesting.

Defining a 21st Century Museum
Here we moved from what we thought museums functions and values were to what they should be.

More a social space, fewer boundaries, collaborative, flexible and responsive to audiences, place where past and present come together to allow exploration of contemporary debates. This was compared to David Fleming’s, Director of National Museums Liverpool, definition.

Collections, modern communication technologies (but balanced), telling stories, changing, not fixed, that recognise socio-cultural change, recognising and reflecting social debates even when controversial, working with audiences.

There are lots of online definitions – most focused on objects, history and place. But the earlier ones present themselves as objective while the latter ones recognise this cannot be so. Then we look at Liverpool’s museum in some depth.

The video: upbeat fast and dynamic

The site and building: explicitly artistic and modern, juxtaposing its values against the old historical dockyard 

Designed for: social, and functional experience; visitor routes and narrative spaces

The process
Collaborating with communities. Much is made of this – so museums not seen as imposing a view but rather generating a view and integrated role in the locality reflecting these aspirations.


The point made about controversy was key. It seems to me that in the past museums have present one view – their view – as the only a real view of particular aspects of the past. But now the 21st century museum recognises that there are many perspectives and views. It does not try to reflect all of them but knows that its representation is just one amongst many and often makes that explicit.

In a way I think art and photography galleries share a similar purpose: to promote understanding and often the way to do this is to promote controversy as they know that it both engages peoples brains and generates publicity. However I wonder if the approach ever backfires?

Postscript – Thinking about the method of learning
The MOOC was cleverly put together with video, interactivity both in tasks and comments, and a highly segmented structure ending in a test of understanding at the end. 

What does all this mean for my work? I’m not sure yet.


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
This entry was posted in Final Products and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum (MOOC)

  1. Catherine says:

    Sounds a most useful Course.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tanya says:

    I’m just tuning in now Pete!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s