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BOOK REVIEW – Museums in Motion

Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums by Edward P. Alexander and Mary Alexander provides a clear and concise look at every facet of the museum profession. While it is an excellent resource for a museum studies curriculum, it is also a readable and user-friendly book for the casual visitor who wants to understand the practices of the modern museum. The 2008 edition is a revised and expanded version of the original 1979 edition, written by Edward P. Alexander. Following his death, his daughter Mary completed an update of the classic tome.

Museums in Motion is comprised of many short sections, with clear subtitles that allow the reader to pick and choose the most relevant information to read. Each chapter begins with three quotations that highlight the discussion to follow on each subject. The quotations are a nice mix of contemporary and historical quotes that put the content into context for the reader.

Each chapter ends with a section called “Challenges.” According to the authors, these sections “are intended to give readers a glimpse of the future; they often raise questions rather than offering answers.” Each chapter also contains an extensive “Notes” section, showing the wide range of research that forms the basis of the book.

Museums in Motion is divided into two parts: “History” and “Functions. “ The “History” section includes an overview of the various types of museums. Chapters include:

The Art Museum

Natural History and Anthropology Museums

Science and Technology Museums and Centers

The History Museum

Botanical Gardens and Zoos

Children’s Museums

These chapters provide a look at the history and development of each type of museum, including its strengths and challenges moving forward in the 21st century. Some chapters offer more in-depth case studies of leading museums in their genres.

“Functions,” the second part of the book, focuses on the ways in which museums perform tasks within the institution. Chapters include:

To Collect

To Conserve

To Exhibit

To Interpret

To Serve

Although each chapter provides only an overview of the functions of museums, the authors do not claim to be the ultimate authority on each subject. Museums in Motion is meant to introduce these ideas to the reader, which is its greatest strength as a basic introduction to the museum field.

The book concludes with chapter called “The Museum Profession,” which examines the professionalism of the field, the organizations that set the standards, and the training needed to continue to enter the museum field.

Museums in Motion is highly recommended reading for someone who wants an overview of the entire field in one concise and well-written book. Museum studies professors will find it easily teachable in an intro level course. The bibliography in the back provides many options for the reader to learn more about many of the topics discussed in its pages.



The writer received a review copy of Museums in Motion free of charge from AltaMira Press as a possible text for her museum studies course at the University of Mount Union. It is now required reading for her students.

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