The role of museums

| by Andrew Scott

( April 27, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The recent theft of some priceless artifacts from the sacred precints of the Colombo national museum, which is one of our most important centres that depict the life and activities of Sri Lanka’s glorious past, has aroused a new interest and a renewed concern about our museums scattered throughout the country. This should also provide us an opportunity to reflect seriously on the importance and the unique role of museums in the life of our people and how they fester the culture of the country.
Particularly the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs should play a pivotal role in giving much importance to the role of museums in education and the promotion of our national culture which dates back to several centuries in the history of our land. In a country such as Sri Lanka steeped in history and archaeology and having a rich cultural heritage the dynamic role that museums play in infusing life to the culture and history of our land is very significant. However it is surprising that there are still some people among us who are yet to realize the value of museums which play a silent but dominant role to foster the culture and civilization of this country.
Taking broadly, a national museum may be defined as a central institution which imparts knowledge of the past to those living in the present by the careful identification and correct interpretation of the findings of archaeologists. In addition national museums serve as repositories for the collection, exhibition and study of objects of artistic, scientific, historical and educational interest. The greatest service that any national museum renders is that it educates the people and stimulates their interest in their national heritage and draws the attention of growing young minds to the rich heritage of the past.
In this connection it must be mentioned that the research work carried out by the national museums of Sri Lanka, as evidenced by the publication of their various scientific papers, is highly thought provoking and most of them have even won international recognition. In Sri Lanka specially the Colombo museum has been a centre of devoted study and healthy discussion and it has illumined the intellectual life of this country. It is surprising that there isn’t much interest about museums in other parts of the country and only a very few have cultivated the habit of visiting them. Therefore it is timely that specially the mass media strive hard to focus the importance of national museums as a tool to foster the cultural life of the country.
When we think about museums we cannot be without mentioning about the important role archaeologists play in maintaining and developing museums. Museums and archaeology are so inter-dependent on each other. Even though a majority of the people are not at all aware an archaeologist renders a memorable service to the society in which he lives. Specially in a country such as Sri Lanka which is heir to a rich cultural heritage and an ancient historical background an archaeologist plays a very significant role. An archaeologist, as much as any other scientist, is a highly skilled person doing a quiet and diligent service to reconstruct the past history of a nation by methodical excavations of archeological importance. Perhaps this is the most important task any archaeologist is called upon to perform. However an archaeologist’s responsibility and curiosity (an archaeologist is always a curious person!) does not end here. The objects he laboriously discovers need careful preservation, restoration, dating and identification and all of these artifacts have to be preserved in museums.
When we consider all these facts we should realize how important national museums are in the cultural life of a nation. Any national museum performs a very important duty towards the citizens of a country and this becomes all the more important when we think about countries such as Sri Lanka which has a recorded archaeological history dating back to many centuries. It must also be remembered that in the modern world museology and archaeology are complementary to one another.
Even though we are living in a world replete with so many new development specially our younger generation should be made to realize the value of museums in the cultural and educational life of the country. It is true that unlike in any other field, being interested in museums does not bring in immediate financial benefits but it will help us to widen our mental horizons specially about the times and activities of our ancients. From their young days school children should be made to realise the value of museums. It is only then that they would develop a genuine patriotic sense of values which will benefit the entire society in the long run.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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