CONSIDER THE DIFFERENCES AND SIMILARITIES BETWEEN A MUSEUM
In the opinion of Appadurai (1986), material culture exposes an evidence of a culture hidden in the products or architecture created by people belonging to that very culture. The study of material culture tries to establish a link between individuals and their used materials. In archeological studies, it is believed that a material or an architectural pattern can stand for the entire culture in which it was made. Here, in this essay, an attempt will be made to evaluate the effectiveness of a museum and a department store in displaying the predominant culture of an era. On the same note, the researcher will also try to find out the essential similarities and differences these two above mentioned entities possess with each other.
Before entering into a full-fledged discussion on the differences and similarities that exist between a museum and a department store, it is extremely important to have a look at the historical development of these two building types. The development of the concept of a museum and that of a department store was largely due to the social, industrial and political transformation and an unprecedented progress in the field of technology. The existence of museum as a “private” property was discernible until the second half of the eighteenth century. However, it was observed that the first “public” museum was opened in UK namely the Ashmolean Museum in 1677 by Elias Ashmole (Bennett, 1995).
On the other hand, the existence of department stores as a new form of retail business has been come to the fore in the mid of the 19th Century. At that point of time, department stores happened to be the only means of entertainment for the womenfolk as it was probably the only place where they can pay frequent visits without having the necessity of being escorted by the male members of their families. In the later part of the nineteenth century, the department stores became multi-functional. The department stores of that time started hosting exhibitions. The restaurant and salon facilities were also included within the premises of the department stores. Shopping at a department store used to give a leisurely feeling to the women of that era as they got a chance to eat, drink and chat with their friends. Until the latter half of the eighteenth century, the entry of women in some of the museums was restricted (Bennett, 1995). Thus, a huge difference stayed between entering into a museum and into a department store for women at that time. However, the situation improved in the nineteenth century when women were encouraged to pay a visit to the museums.
By shifting the focus of the study towards the similarity between a museum and a department store, it can be said that both the entities must have to display different objects or products to the visitors. It was also evident that sometimes department stores attempted to copy the display pattern of museums. An example of it can be found in the case of the Bon Marche in which an attempt has been initiated to recreate an experience similar to that of an exhibition inside the department store. The experience of shopping in a department store can be equal to that of a museum as the displayed products in a department store is not only for buying, they at the same time offers visual pleasure to the visitors. The customers of a department store give same level of respect to the products as a curator uses to give to the displayed objects in a museum.
Besides having closeness to displaying techniques, the museums and the department stores also possess similarity in playing a role in reforming a society. Cohen (2003) was of the opinion that modern museums try to reform the society by placing the working class populace under the strict observation of the upper middle class. Binsbergen and Geschiere (2005) argued that department stores treaded along the same pathway which museums followed in treating with the people from the working class. Like the museums, in the previous times, the department stores give the working class people a feeling of discomfort as they are not accustomed to the shopping environment that exists in the department stores. By feeling left out, the working class people try to adjust with this new shopping environment as much as they can.
The very concept of edification has its impact on the architectural design of both the department stores and the museums. Both the entities have a common goal to turn the society transparent. Transparency plays a huge role in designing the architecture of a museum in earlier days. Dimoulis and Milios (2004) suggested that inter-visibility amongst the shoppers or visitors is pretty important inside the museums or the department stores in order to reform the society. It was observed by Herod et al. (2013) that in museums the working class people have been given spaces where they can get a chance to have a glance of the civic habits and lifestyles of their upper class counterparts. By imitating those habits, the working class people got a chance to improve their own habits into civilized ones and through this; the reformation of the entire society was achieved.