In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Museum Studies

  • Introduction
  • The State of Museum Studies
  • Historic References on Museology
  • General Museum Studies References
  • Museum Studies Textbooks

Anthropology Museum Studies
John E. Simmons, Kiersten F. Latham
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0244


This article is on museum studies, not on museums. Museum studies is defined as the interdisciplinary engagement in critical examination of the history, functions, and roles of museums in society. Although the name museum studies began to be used in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an older term, museology, is more commonly used in non-English speaking countries and is a more appropriate and descriptive term for the field, despite the widespread use of museum studies. In this article, museology and museum studies are used synonymously. When Jay Rounds set out, nearly in the 1990s, to empirically determine whether museum studies had a core body of literature, he did so among skeptics who claimed the field was underdeveloped and lacked a foundation of knowledge. The results of Rounds’s analysis contradicted these assertions and revealed a substantial core literature and a significant body of discipline-specific knowledge. Over the last two decades, the museological knowledge base and quantity of core literature continued to grow exponentially. Museum studies has a robust foundation and a diverse, healthy, growing body of core literature. Since their origin in the late 1700s, modern museums have evolved and diversified extensively, but the museum profession did not emerge as a distinct field of endeavor until the early 1900s. Nevertheless, the earliest museological publications date back to the precursors of modern museums in the mid-1500s. Far and away most of the bibliographic growth in museum studies has occurred in the last three decades, resulting in a historically sparse, but contemporaneously rich, museological literature.

The State of Museum Studies

This section provides a selection of writings on the state of 21st-century museum studies, including the literature survey Rounds 2001, Williams and Hawks 2007, a compilation (which includes a comprehensive listing of museum studies programs in North America), and Latham and Simmons 2019, which is a worldwide survey of academic programs that identify as museum studies programs and the lack of consistency in what they are teaching. It is significant that there is little published about museum studies as a discipline compared to the amount of literature about museums themselves, in contrast to disciplines such as library and information science (LIS), which boasts several journals dedicated to teaching LIS and an accrediting body for LIS programs (neither of which exists for museum studies). López Rosas 2010 provides an assessment of university museums in Latin American and the Caribbean with viewpoints from both inside and outside the region. Welsh 2014 reexamines some of the issues addressed in prior assessments of museum studies, and Dickey, et al. 2013 looks at museum studies in an international context.

  • Dickey, Jennifer W., Samir El Azhar, and Catherine M. Lewis, eds. 2013. Museums in a global context: National identity, international understanding. Washington, DC: AAM Press.

    Essays on the politics of global museums, the relationships of museums to heritage tourism, and audience engagement, along with case studies from Germany, Morocco, Niger, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, South Africa, the United States, and Vietnam.

  • Latham, Kiersten F., and John E. Simmons. 2019. Whither museum studies? Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 60.2: 102–117.

    DOI: 10.3138/jelis.2018-0050

    An assessment of the current state of museum studies with an argument for museology as a more descriptive name for the discipline. Examines significant issues in museological pedagogy and critical issues in the field, emphasizing the importance of a balance of practical and theoretical instruction for training museum professionals.

  • López Rosas, William A., ed. 2010. Museos, universidad y mundialización. La gestión de las colecciones y los museos universitarios en América Latina y el Caribe. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

    A collection of English, French, and Spanish essays addressing the status of university museums in Latin America and the Caribbean in the context of globalization and protection of cultural patrimony; includes case studies from Colombia and Alaska, and a proposal for a Latin American museum network.

  • Rounds, Jay. 2001. Is there a core literature in museology? Curator 44.2: 194–296.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2151-6952.2001.tb00041.x

    Comprehensive citation analysis methodology was used to identify an evolving core literature, seminal works, and prominent authors in museological literature. Rounds opines that the misconception regarding museological core literature stems from the lack of a centralized academic home for museology.

  • Welsh, Peter H. 2014. Preparing a new generation: Thoughts on contemporary museum studies training. Museum Management and Curatorship 28.5: 236–254.

    An overview of the history of museum studies in the United States with emphasis on three domains of museum work (engagement, representation, materiality) and their relationship to professional training.

  • Williams, Stephen L., and Catharine A. Hawks, eds. 2007. Museum studies: Perspectives and innovations. Washington, DC: Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.

    A collection of papers on the state of museum studies organized in three categories, “Professionalism in Museums,” “Academic Programs,” and “Challenges in Museums.” Includes chapters on “Museum Studies Programs in North America,” and “Curriculum Standards for Museum Studies Programs.”

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