Public institution dedicated to preserving and interpreting the primary tangible evidence of humans and their environment. Types of museums include general (multidisciplinary) museums, natural-history museums, science and technology museums, history museums, and art museums. In Roman times the word referred to a place devoted to scholarly occupation (see MUSEUM OF ALEXANDRIA). The public museum as it is known today did not develop until the 17th–18th century. The first organized body to receive a private collection, erect a building to house it, and make it publicly available was the University of Oxford; the resulting Ashmolean Museum opened in 1683. The 18th century saw the opening of great museums such as the BRITISH MUSEUM, LOUVRE, and UFFIZI GALLERY.
By the early 19th century the granting of public access to formerly private collections had become common. What followed for the next 100 years was the worldwide founding of museums intended for the public. In the 20th century, museums have broadened their roles as educational facilities, sources of leisure activity, and information centres. Many sites of historical or scientific significance have been developed as museums. Museum attendance has increased greatly, often attracted by “blockbuster” exhibitions, though museums have had to become more financially resourceful due to constraints in public funding.