SPACE OF THE MUSEUM
Space has a History
In the Middle Ages there was a hierarchic ensemble of spaces and fixed
places. The medieval space was the space of emplacement, with reciprocating
spaces that reflected each other; urban and rural spaces, sacred and profane
spaces, supercelestial, celestial and terrestrial places. Within these
fixed and hierarchical emplacements, meanings, relationships, and similitudes
proliferated endlessly. Within the princely collections of South Germany
and North Italy throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the interrelationships
of material things could be endlessly conjured according to secret analogies
and resemblances , signatures could be read and reread, magical and
carefully crafted artefacts placed in conjunction with natural things
to reveal the hidden links of the world. 
The static, enclosed space of emplacement with its endlessly circulating
interior meanings was opened up by Galileo whose work exposed an infinite
and infinitely open space, where a thing's place was revealed as only
a point in it's movement. Extension was substituted for localization.
Thus the meanings of things had no anchor and it became necessary, in
an endlessly fluid universe, to find fixed points of relationship between
things. The two-dimensional table of knowledge was substituted for the
circles of reciprocity  and taxonomies were drawn up that established,
once and for all, the 'true' families and exact relationships of things.
Notionally, the old fables and stories of the incremental Renaissance
way of knowing were discarded as false, irrational and unscientific ,
and measurement and order were used to establish proximities among material
The great theme of the nineteenth century was history. The accumulation
of material that demonstrated the contingently renegotiated meaning of
the past was one of the elements that constituted the emergence of museums
as public places. Napoleon used the rewritten script of the King's Palace
of the Louvre to show and celebrate the Republican government and to constitute
the potentially dangerous masses as citizens of that Republic. Through
the bringing together and displaying of material things which had been
violently taken away from their previous religious, aristocratic, royal
and enemy owners a space was constituted where new values of liberty,
freedom, fraternity and equality among citizens of the State could be
both produced and reproduced. In becoming a visitor to the Musee du Louvre,
the subject willingly and enthusiastically embraced a new ensemble of
social, cultural, political and economic values. The reorganised newly
disciplined spaces of the old haphazard royal palace acted as one of the
new technologies of power, control and supervision of both subjects and
material things. In the assembling, ordering, classifying, placing, cataloguing,
labelling, conserving and displaying of thousands of paintings, sculptures,
clocks, tapestries, mirrors, jewels, coins, books, live animals and plant
specimens new curatorial practices and values began to emerge in the Musee
du Louvre, the Jardin des Plantes and other related institutions. 
New separations were made between types of material thing. Natural things
had their own spaces where before they had often been part of a general
collection. Separations were made between the works of living and dead
artists where previously the size, shape and content of a painting had
been the factors that determined the classifying code. The 'authentic'
and the 'fake' became new categories, where previously a complete series
had been more important. New subject positions emerged. 
The Louvre acted as a programme, a model for other museums that were rapidly
established in Europe in the first few decades of the nineteenth century.
Museums emerged as part of new relations of power and of new forms of
governmentality. In Britain, the British Museum had been established before
the Louvre and thus followed the earlier programme, that of a princely
or gentlemanly cabinet. Napoleon had established a network of interconnecting
museums across France, with the Louvre acting as the central clearing
house. In Britain no such logical programme was followed and museums emerged
haphazardly during the century, some run by Literary and Philosophical
societies for their members, some, in the first half of the century, set
up by mechanics institutes for the benefit of the working population.
Most museums were linked in some way to philanthropic movements, and most
had quite explicit, although varying, educational aims.
Contemporary space is still not entirely desanctified and this hidden
presence of the sacred nurtures spatial divisions that we nowadays take
for granted; the divisions between private and public space, or family
and social space for example.  The spaces and sites within which we
live are constituted through specific sets of relations that delineate
one from another. 'Hetereotopias' function as sites that are real and
lived, but which act as counter-sites, counter-utopias, special spaces
that are simultaneously both mythic and material. The functions of heteretopias
can be constituted and reconstituted according to the needs of the specific
society within which they are located. Thus the 'museum' as heterotopia
in the fifteenth and sixteenth century functioned as a space where meaning
could be eternally reread, reinterpreted and rerepresented, where the
relationships of the world could be reassembled; the 'museum' of the seventeenth
century functioned to fix a final meaning for material things in order
to bring words and things into a finite and visible relation. The 'museum'
of the nineteenth century functioned as a general archive in which time
never stopped building, in which things of all epochs, all styles, all
forms could be accumulated and preserved against the ravages of time,
in perpetuity. The Museum acted and in many ways still acts (and not least,
conceptually) as a microcosm of the world, as a universal sacred space
where Man can rediscover and reconstitute his fragmented self.
But how is it that heteretopias actually work? How is the project of accumulating
the archive of the world organised and whose world is it that is so organised?
How is the myth of universality created and sustained? How is the myth
of the universal Man constituted? What are the power/knowledge relations
within this particular sacred site? And if the functions of heteretopias
are open to change, is this happening in the site of the museum and if
so how? In standard 'museum' literature, the identity of 'museums' is
taken for granted, accepted as given, as are practices of collecting and
of accumulation. A continuous identity is assumed from the 'cabinets of
curiosity' to the present day: thus 'the modern museum effectively dates
from the Renaissance' ; and 'collecting is an instinctive drive for
most human beings'.  Essentialist notions of ahistoric practices blind
us to both the genuinely long-term but changing and often discontinuous
persistence of some elements of the musological articulation, and the
often abrupt re-evaluation and reclassification of other elements.
One of the problems of starting to analyse a field as diverse as that
of the museum is to find a way of dividing the area to be tackled. Foucault
uses an analytical scheme based on the spatialisation of the medical discourse
in 'The Birth of the Clinic' which is likely to be useful in other fields.
Foucault used three levels of spatialisation of discourse. In applying
these levels to the field of museums, primary spatialisation will focus
on the selection and meaning-making practices that relate to the material
things that constitute the collections of museums; secondary spatialisation
will pay attention to the museum as a multiplicity of frames for the articulation
of material things, subjects, and knowing; and tertiary spatialisation
is characterised as the study of the social processes and the broad contextual
field within which specific museum-related practices emerge and operate.
> Primary Spatialisation in the Museum
'The museum has a unique role as a repository for three-dimensional
objects gathered from both the natural and the man-made environments'.
 The gathering of objects is generally referred to as collecting.
Collecting can be active or passive. An active collecting museum would
be buying things on a regular basis and soliciting material from other
appropriate sources, gifts, bequests, permanent loans. A museum that collects
passively waits until things are offered and then decides whether it is
appropriate to accept them. In both cases the decision as to appropriateness
should be referred to the collecting policy ... Policies are premised
on the idea that a complete table of knowledge is possible. Thus curators
are exhorted to fill the gaps in the collection,  eliminate the empty
spaces in the table of difference, complete the picture. In this respect
it is very likely that the work of the museum curator in classifying his/her
collection is close to the work of the nosographers classifying disease.
Morphological differences define the position of the object within a hierarchical
thinking about what to collect and in defining collecting policies it
is the material thing that has predominated. Thus museums hold collections
of 'costume', 'lepidoptera', 'silver', 'German Expressionist paintings'.
The disciplines of the museum are those that tend to be object-based;
natural history, geology, art, decorative arts, archaeology, social history.
These divisions spring from nineteenth century concerns and from the collections
that were accumulated mainly by private collectors at that time. Later
these collections found their way into museums and in many instances form
the base upon which practices today are articulated. The concentration
on the the artefact or specimen as material thing tends to lead to classifications
that emphasise the visible features, the technologies or types of thing,
the stylistic variations, rather than the social relations or articulatory
practices through which the particular artefact emerged. Thus we have
different types of iron artefacts, demonstrating different iron-making
processes and different uses of iron at the Museum of Iron, Ironbridge.
It is the substance, iron, and its different material manifestations that
is the concern of the museum.
Museum classification and documentation systems constitute curators as
seeing, knowing, and valorising subjects. Where classification systems
are consciously in operation, they can reveal both those things which
are to be valued and, simultaneously, those things which will not be accorded
value. Porter has demonstrated how recent British social history classification
systems treat the work of men and women differently, and how this has
contributed to the invisibility of women in displays.  'Domestic life'
and 'working life' are two separate categories, with things which were
used for washing, cleaning or cooking by women being placed into the category
of 'domestic life' regardless of whether or not the items might have been
used in an industrial situation. She also demonstrates how the concentration
on material things to display 'history' presents an entirely distorted
picture in respect of those people who barely had a material existence.
Curators working only from material things cannot see or know about those
many aspects of life that are not revealed through this perspective.
'The primary purpose of collection documentation is to insure the permanent
and individual absolute identification of each item in the collection'.
 Material things on entering the museum are labelled with a number
that positions them in both a spatial and a knowledge hierarchy, a place
on a shelf and in a card system. The opportunities for exploiting multiple
meanings are limited by the amount of cross-indexing that is possible.
'Few museums have the resources to provide more than five manual indexes
... an object name index, object period index, collection place name index,
donor index, and storage location index'.  Any other known information
about an object is placed in a file which may contain related letters,
press-cuttings, references to similar items in other collections etc.
It is easy to see how the human dimension of artefacts is irretrievably
lost in this system, and how dependent museums are on knowing about the
history and articulations of the material thing before it entered the
museum. The museum itself is a data-processing system, often rather an
inefficient one, but one which is absolutely dependent on forces and relations
that operate outside its parameters.
At the level of primary spatialisation, therefore, much of the curatorial
work of the museum at the present time closely resembles the work of the
classical episteme. A two-dimensional encyclopedic classification, based
on the visible features of things is perforce the goal. The development
of philosophical questioning or of the human sciences in the museum is
hindered firstly by the concentration on material things which effectively
conceal non-material human relationships, and secondly by the dependency
on the information which accompanies the artefact or specimen as it enters
the museum data-bank.
Secondary Spatialisation in the Museum
With the concept of secondary spatialisation, the analysis focusses on
the way in which material things, having become part of the data held
by the museum, are framed and articulated. We could address how and why
some things are concealed and others are made visible, in other words
what are the procedures and decisions that are necessary before material
things are regarded as appropriate for display. We could consider how
the building itself, its internal and external spaces and its furniture,
articulates with the processes of display and exhibition. The social,
ideological, economic, and cultural factors that interact in the constitution
of the tasks the museum undertakes should be analysed. These tasks are
currently being re-articulated in Britain with the emergence of a new
set of prescriptions of what it is possible to do, say or see.
The primary feature of display as a mode of transmission is that it is
structured on the principle of visibility. Objects are laid out so that
they can be seen. The sense of sight takes precedence over other senses,
those of taste, smell, hearing and touch, and indeed it is a rare display
that manages to incorporate any of these. The visible features of the
objects are the most important and other features of them, their use,
their history, how they would look in motion, etc, are all difficult to
portray. Display is static and timeless. Time is not a feature of most
museum displays, in that the effects of time are minimized, and indeed
often disguised or denied. The objects are not perceived in space and
time, so that only a very limited experience of them is possible. The
visible itself is often only a limited visibility, with what is considered
the front view offered to perception, and this is presented within narrow
The combination of objects is generally linear. They must be consumed
while on the move, walking, past a series of fixed points. The effect
of laying out objects for linear consumption is to produce a single narrative,
generally with only one viewpoint, or one argument presented. Often the
theme of the display will be so concealed that even this narrative is
unappreciated. The three-dimensional, philosophical links between the
objects are inaccessible and unattainable to almost everyone. The internal
furniture of the museum has a part to play in the way in which things
can be spaced, placed and known. The display cases themselves dictate
the organization of knowledge. Four display cases of the same size requires
an exhibit with four even-sized parts to it. Each section must be of roughly
the same aesthetic quality, and conceptual weight, whether this suits
the material or not. Space and knowledge articulate in the museum in a
specific manner. The spatial arrangements of the exhibition divide, control
and give meaning to the material things, the desires of the curator, the
bodies of the public.
This kind of physical structuring, this three-dimensional classifying
or cataloguing, this physical organization of material according to the
dictates of an external matrix is likely to lead to a form of knowing
that consists merely of a showing, a putting out on display. In the seventeenth
century this form of knowing was paramount: to have seen something was
to know it. But today, it is often felt to be inadequate and constricting.
What happens to a philosophical argument if the display case is too small?
The building which houses the collections has been usefully analysed as
a script for social action  where the material references of the architectural
spaces and forms act as 'doing codes' both in the constitution of an ideal
citizen, and in the understanding, in terms of things seen when and where,
of a specific discipline, art history. But it is useful to ask how far
does the form of the museum building and the arrangement of internal spaces
in fact construct a way of seeing a particular subject matter? Is history
to be seen as a chronological single thread narrative, or do the spaces
permit a thematic comparative approach? Does the knowing subject (curator,
visitor) abstract the building from the perception of things or does the
form and material specificity of the building intimately shape the way
things can be known? Does the building itself influence curatorial decisions
as to what can be shown and what must remain invisible and if so how?
That the museum programme is currently being rewritten can be observed
from the way in which new subject positions are emerging. Up until the
last twenty years the professional staff of a museum was almost exclusively
made up of curators. During the late sixties, new positions evolved, those
of the designer and the conservator, and the numbers of education officers
expanded quite considerably. In the past two years subject positions have
shifted again with the emergence of the marketing manager and the development
officer. The role of Director is now firmly one of manager and entrepreneur
rather than of scholar.
Tertiary Spatialisation in the Museum
In museums in Britain during the last century there has been little evidence
of as compelling a conjuncture of social, ideological, economic or political
factors as was the case in France at the end of the 18th century when
museums were established as an intersecting and coherent network across
the country. Up until very recently the museum field could be described
as erratic, fragmented and diverse  and in many ways, many museums
were and still are underdeveloped and archaic. However, in the last two
years there has been a quickening of events at the tertiary level that
will lead to changes in museums in the next few years that can barely
now be envisaged. Thatcher's Britain is a society in the throes of radical
shifts in values, practices and ideologies. One probably unanticipated
effect of the lurch into the enterprise culture with its emphasis on plural
funding for previously state funded institutions, its call to the market
as an arbiter of survival, and at the same time its need for a rewritten
history to justify very hard-edged social policies, is newly written scripts
for museums. Museums are currently referred to by government as the 'museums
industry'. The annual turnover of museums and galleries has been identified
as £231 million. The overseas earnings of museums and other arts
organizations equals that of the fuel industry. Museums are presented
as having the potential for inner-city regeneration, and for propping
up the economy in run-down urban and rural areas. 
Recent research  has for the first time presented a comprehensive
picture of the range, identities, scope of collections and staffing patterns
across museums in Britain. This research is on-going and will gradually
become more and more detailed. Research into visiting patterns and patterns
of museum use are increasingly called for as financial accountability
begins to bite. As local services are privatised, and competitive tendering
becomes more common, museums are having to describe, justify and quantify
their work in relation to the work of swimming bath managers and cemetery
organizers. Time management in relation to new descriptions of duties,
with each quarter of an hour noted, described and accounted for, is becoming
a part of the work culture of museums as in other sections of society.
A demand for training has accelerated, both from museum workers who feel
their lack of both specialist and general expertise in relation to other
professions and from government, who are currently funding a training
needs assessment on a national basis for all levels of workers, and a
new Museum Training Institute which will deliver new forms of training
on a far more thorough and regular basis than hitherto. Regional training
officers will be established across the country and new methods of quality
assessment are being developed. Training officers are being appointed
in some of the larger national museums.
Government wishes museums to be more self-supporting and to this end has
cut budgets in real terms and insisted on museums finding new sources
of finances with new funding partners. The Audit Office has investigated
some of the National Museums and on discovering the need for enormous
sums of money for building repair, object conservation, and redisplay,
has suggested the sale of some of the collections to meet the bills, and
prepared legislation so that powers of disposal have been given to the
trustees. As new trustees are appointed, industrialists and entrepreneurs
are replacing academics and new, more interventionist ways of working
are evolving. Museums are being redesigned as corporate industries, staff
roles at all levels are being redefined, and new relationships to the
burgeoning tourism and leisure industries are being negotiated. Museums
are beginning to become conference managers, and hotels owners. Employees
who fail to adapt to these new demands, or whose skills are no longer
seen to be relevant, are abruptly removed.
All these changes at the tertiary level will have extremely far-reaching
consequences at the levels of both primary and secondary spatialisation.
The nineteenth century museum was constituted as a general archive, an
accumulation of things from all places, of all styles and all times, with
a double mission to both transform the mob into 'men' of taste and discrimination,
and to provide a sacred site for contemplation and self-renewal. Although
these and other forces (civic pride, individual vanity, educational desires)
led to the establishment of many museums during the latter part of the
nineteenth and the very early twentieth century, the vision was lost and
the enterprise foundered on the need for ever increasing resources at
a period when two World Wars drained what resources there were into more
pressing areas. During the twentieth century the growth of museums was
relatively haphazard and their role in social life tenuous, uncertain
and variable. Collections were accumulated without clear direction and
were often held without registration or documentation.
It was not until the mid nineteen-sixties that collection management procedures
were overhauled and a long process of developing systematic procedures
was begun.  These processes themselves are currently generally limited
to the naming, numbering and listing of individual items. Knowing, seeing
and doing in museums is constituted in a unique way through the articulations
of material things and space at many levels. The organisational demands
of handling and sorting large quantities of three-dimensional things are
superimposed on the need to research, document and make available the
information that may or may not accrue to the artefacts and specimens.
The techniques of collection management which are vital to the project
of the museum are often so overwhelming because of the numbers of things
involved and the paucity of resources with which to work that the manipulation
of data is severely hampered.
The internal and external spaces of the museum partly constitute the way
in which material things can be grouped and made visible. The articulations
of material things, internal gallery spaces, internal and external built
structures affect both the desires of the curator and the perceptions
of the visitor. The physical three-dimensional experience of the subject
in the space of the museum is the knowing in the museum. It is a spatialised
perception, a form of knowing that involves bodily responses and movements
in a three-dimensional knowledge-environment where the possibilities of
what may be known are partly defined in advance through both the processes
of collection management and the interrelationships of material things
and museum spaces.
Up until recently this knowledge-environment has had the appearance and
presented things to be known in a form reminiscent of a three-dimensional
trade catalogue. In the last few years the shift in museum practices has
been away from the accumulation and mere documentation of collections
into a need to 'interpret' those collections for a broader audience. The
presentation model generally referred to is that of television, and new
displays have been designed that work with themes, with three-dimensional
models, with computers, and with audio-visual equipment. The last two
to three years have seen an extremely rapid acceleration of change, and
specifically in relation to the audience for museums. If museums are to
become largely self-supporting corporations, then the museum visitor,
tolerated in the curatorial hey-day of the 3-D catalogue, offered educational
and enlightening experiences when the designer and educator had greater
power, now becomes, in the language of the marketing manager, the paying
customer, the market. As museums become market-driven, and collections
are 'delivered', the older values and assumptions that have under-pinned
museum work since the beginning of the century become redundant.
Identities of material things and of museums themselves are unstable and
precarious and subject to constant change and modification. The qualities
and quantities of change have varied at different historical moments.
Currently, in Britain, the pace of change has quickened and the change
is of a far-reaching and radical nature, touching all aspects of social
life. Museums, so slow to change at the primary and secondary levels of
spatialisation from internal impetus, will be radically reconstituted
through the articulations at the level of tertiary spatialisation of external
economic, cultural, ideological and social ruptures.
 H. O. Bostrom, 'Philip Hainhofer and Gustavus Adolphus's Kunstschrank
in Uppsala' in O. Impey,and A. MacGregor, eds., The Origins of Museums
Clarendon Press, 1985, p.90-101.
 L. Laurencich-Minelli, 'Museography and ethnographical collections
in Bologna during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries' in O. Impey
and A. MacGregor, eds., 1985, p17-23.
 M. Foucault, The Order of Things Tavistock Publications, 1970, p.74.
 Older practices continued to persist after the emergence of the Classical
episteme, see W. E. Houghton, 'The English virtuoso in the seventeenth
century', Journal of the History of Ideas, v.3, 1942, part one, pp.51-73;
part two, pp190-219. This suggests that Foucault's episteme is not monolithic
and that more than one way of knowing can exist at any one time. See E.
Hooper-Greenhill, 'The Museum: the socio-historical articulations of knowledge
and things' PhD thesis, University of London, 1988, pp.345-346.
 P. Wescher, 'Vivant Denon and the Musee Napoleon' Apollo v.80, pp.183,
1964; E. P. Alexander, Museum Masters: their museums and their influences
American Association for State and Local History, 1983, p.93-4.
 Alexander, 1983, p.95 and C. Gould, Trophy of Conquest: The Musˇe
Napoleon and the Creation of the Louvre Faber and Faber, 1965, p.20, both
discuss the emergence of picture conservation as a discreet and specialist
activity; K. Hudson, Museums of Influence Cambridge University Press,
1987, pp. 6, and 41, mentions dealers and art historians; and Wescher,
1964, p.183 discusses the specialist staff recruited for the new museum.
 M. Foucault, 'Of other spaces' Diacritics v.16, no.1, 1986, p.23.
 P. Whitehead, The British Museum (Natural History) Scala, 1981, p.7.
 E. P. Alexander, Museums in Motion American Association for State
and Local History, 1979, p.119.
 S. M. Stone, 'Documenting collections' in J.M.A. Thompson, (ed) The
Manual of Curatorship Butterworths, 1984, pp.127-135.
 P.J. Boylan, Towards a Policy for Leicestershire Museums, Art Galleries
and Records Services Leicester Museums, Art Galleries, and Records Service,
 G. Porter, 'Putting your house in order: representations of women
and domestic life' in R. Lumley, (ed) The Museum Time-Machine Comedia/Routledge,
 C.E. Guthe, The Management of Small History Museums. American Association
of State and Local History, 1964, p.35.
 Stone, 1984, p.134.
 C. Duncan and A. Wallach, 'The Museum of Modern Art as late capitalist
ritual: an iconographic analysis', Marxist Perspectives Winter,1978, pp.28-51;
C. Duncan, and A. Wallach, 'The universal survey museum' Art History v.3,
no.4, 1980, pp.448-469.
A. Drew, 'The Presidential address' Museums Journal v. 85, no.3,1985,
J. Myerscough, The Economic Importance of the Arts in Britain Policy Studies
D.R. Prince and B. Higgins-McCloughlin, Museums UK: the Findings of the
Museums Database Project Museums Association, 1987.
Stone, 1984 and D.A. Roberts,'The development of computer-based documentation'
in Thompson, 1984.
longer version of this article originally appeared in Continuum:
The Australian Journal of Media & Culture, vol. 3 no 1 (1990).
Eilean Hooper-Greenhill >>