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Encounter "Museums, Civilization and Development"

Amman, 26-30 April 1994 - Workshop Reports

Workshop 1: The role of museums and museum personnel in development

Within the framework of the Encounter organized by ICOM and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan on the theme "Museums, Civilization and Development" at the Royal Cultural Centre of Amman, the participants in the workshop on "The role of museums and museum personnel" stressed the importance of such a meeting which is conducive to the exchange of experiences.

In the course of their discussions, the following considerations were raised:

1- The importance of the role of museums in society.
2- The need of appropriate training of museum personnel and of autonomous museum management.
3- The need for the exchange of information and personnel within the Arab community.

1- The importance of the role of museums in society
The participants stressed that the first task of Arab museums is the protection of the national and human heritage and of the valorization of the concept of a cultural identity in all present and future museums (archaeology, ethnography, fine arts, natural history, contemporary history, science and technology).

The museums's impact on the population
The people should be involved in the life of a museum. This mainly concerns museums of ethnography and folklore whose emotional impact is evident. These museums are ideal places for education and recreation. They have the opportunity to reach all categories of the population, and are sensitive to their daily living experiences and aspirations (e.g. the Beit Al-Qura'n Museum in Bahrain, the Palestine Museum).

Museums have an essential role in the education of children, the visitors of tomorrow. Through children, inhibited adults can also be moved (the examples of the Science Museum of Oman and the Museum of Mankind in London especially illustrate this idea). The museum cannot, however, be a substitute for the school (which remains a place of learning).

But it must work in close collaboration with it. If schooling is synonymous with work, then the museum is synonymous with recreation and relaxation, but also with knowledge and life. It should be the guarantor of our civilization's present and future by developing awareness on the part of the youth who are eager for centres of liberty, expression and creativity.

Desert Museum
The desert, a common element in all Arab countries, should perhaps be exploited in the form of one or several mobile museums, with a centre to be determined, similar to that in the Kalahari Desert. This type of museum is a necessity. Algeria already has such an institution as well as a documentation centre on desertification. Other countries have also emphasized this issue. Among them, the Institute of the Arab World in Paris nominated itself as the "resource" body for implementing certain activities mentioned during this Encounter.

2- Management and Training
Management: Many participants are concerned by the inadequacy of the edifices used as museums (example: the Jerash Museum). However, the old buildings are not to be looked down upon, and their rehabilitation is strongly recommended so long as the structure of the building and the conditions for preventive conservation are respected, as they are frequently considered as a part of the heritage to be protected.

Training: The importance of the training of museum personnel was discussed at length. All aspects of the museum profession should be subject to standardization as much on the level of terminology as on the level of a detailed description and needed training. All this should be done independently of governmental supervision. In this framework, the group emphasized the need for museum training courses. Two trends appeared: one is favourable to the creation of regional centres, the other one is favourable to the introduction of courses and seminars on museology within a teaching course in universities.

On the other hand, a directory of museums and museum professionals in the Arab World will allow the exchange of experiences. The collaboration of ICOM experts is, moreover, deeply desired. ICOM must provide advice and support for the establishment of an inventory of existing institutions where museology is taught, contact the concerned institutions and assist with the selection of teachers. Also, will the museum profession be accorded its proper value? In these times of recession, it is desirable that continuous training be assured as well as specialized courses for museum professionals to keep pace with the evolution of society and new technologies. The temporary freezing of the "Baghdad Regional Centre for the Conservation of Cultural Property in Arab Countries" was regretted. It was recommended that some of its activities be transferred to Jordan or to another Arab country.

3- Exchange of information and personnel within the Arab community
The absence of interaction between museum professionals in the Arab world was deeply deplored. To compensate for this, a regional grouping is particularly desired. The majority of delegates proved to be in favour of a regional association within ICOM, beginning with the establishment of national communities. Jordan has proposed to be the first seat of this organization.

Within this inter-Arabic association, the exchange of travelling exhibitions should also be easier. In this same sense of exchange, it is indispensable to have a flow of information by means of a newsletter that should serve as a follow up to the bulletin that will be published by ICOM, thanks to the financial support of the Ford Foundation. Egypt proposed to assume and ensure its continuity. In becomming ICOM members, the newcomers promise to supply the information centre with useful information and publications.

The future may witness the rebirth of the Arab Museum magazine. A dozen of participants wished to contribute to the revision or the development of a terminological, museological glossary (in collaboration with ALESCO and taking into consideration the standards established by AFRICOM ).


  • The recognition of the educational role of museums in the Arab community, as well as their administrative and financial autonomy.
  • The integration of museology in the structure of academic training. ICOM will make the first contacts and give its support in the elaboration and development of academic programmes (possibly in collaboration with ALESCO).
  • That some of the activities of the Baghdad Regional Centre be reactivated and reinforced and some of them transferred if necessary to Jordan or any other Arab country, in collaboration with UNESCO .
  • The establishment of a regional Arab organization within ICOM, with the mission of editing a newsletter and reviving an Arab Museum magazine. The organization will also be charged with the development of an Arab glossary of museological terminology.

Workshop 2: The management of collections

The participants in this workshop discussed the following three topics:

1. Conservation
2. Documentation
3. Exhibitions, and regional and international co-operation.


The following issues were addressed at length:

  • Preventive conservation
  • Raising public awareness
  • The need for specialized training
1.1 On the issue of preventive conservation

The interest and the means available for restoration vary in the different Arab countries.
The concept of preventive conservation is still not very familiar to museums in the Arab World. Hence the Delta Plan initiated in the Netherlands in 1990 and which resulted in raising awareness on this problem in Europe, should be looked into by the different Arab museums.
Many ideas were discussed in the workshop: the need for a systematic documentation, and the need for systematic monitoring of collections.
The need to conserve the collection as a whole in storage areas, and in showcases, for both the museums' permanent and temporary exhibitions.
In most Arab countries, the volume of excavated archaeological artefacts is rather huge. Hence it is necessary to plan the excavation missions in such a way so as to allow for the handling of existing stored artefacts.
The very rapid urban development in most Arab countries often impose urgent excavations. Such excavations must be carried out by inter-disciplinary specialists so as not to lose the historical context in which the objects are found.
Measures for the protection of open-air sites must be taken and the impact of large numbers of visitors should be looked into. The number of tourists to popular sites must be limited. Redistribution of the number of tourists could be achieved with the cooperation of tourist agencies.

Suggestions and recommendations:

  • Museum storage areas must meet the standards which are mentioned in "Reserves in Question".
  • On-site documentation should be carried out, stating the condition of the excavated objects.
  • Educational programmes which increase public awareness on issues related to conservation and restoration should be developed. Educational panels on the site help to raise peoples' awareness of their rich cultural heritage. This method is commonly used in Canada and Australia.
  • Traditional techniques and methods should also be documented in order to help conservation and restoration specialists.
  • Three levels of intervention in restoration work have been proposed.
    1. Basic interventions carried out by the museum itself.
    2. Restoration carried out by a specialized national university laboratory.
    3. Restoration work carried out by specialized regional laboratories.

1.2 The need for public awareness

The participants expressed great need for public awareness on the level of the lay person and decision-makers. As it stands today in the Arab countries, people have no appreciation or understanding of their cultural heritage. In most Arab countries, destruction occurs as a result of a lack of awareness.

The participants recommended that community education, school education, education centres should be part of the museum. The media can play a role and special youth camps that deal with the protection of cultural heritage. The need to involve all sectors of the population.

1.3. The need for training

Many of the existing problems are due to lack of expertise and skilled museum personnel. The issue of training in all fields was mentioned: preventive conservation, security, documentation, and specialized training in conservation and restoration. ICCROM's mobile exhibition on preventive conservation could be necessary for all Arab museums.


2.1 Present situation

Seven countries have developed software to take care of collections management. All the participants stressed that this software is not widely distributed.

Furthermore, it was agreed that integrated documentation should be a tool for sites and monuments and collections management, including conservation and research, as well as between those bodies taking care of the heritage: museums, universities, governmental departments, etc. It should be a tool for professionals and the public as a whole in exhibitions and libraries by use of visual media.

Most stressed the immediate need to establish inventories (manual or computerized) in all museums.

It was agreed that the role of inventories amongst others, was to:

  • Establish databanks to register stolen artefacts
  • Fight against the illicit traffic of cultural property
  • Increase the possibilities of exchanging information on museum collections and their documentation.
  • Serve as curatorial and conservation tools in the museums

2.2 Actions and experiences

During the workshop, RITSEC Cultureware showed their computerized systems including Integrated Museum Information System (IMIS), Multimedia Manuscripts Retrieval System (MMRS) and Environmental Map of Archaeological Sites (EMAS).
RITSEC is funded by the UNDP and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development and is thus non-governmental. It was initially set up in two centres: one in Cairo and the other in Kuwait. RITSEC hopes to be able to help other Arab countries with information technology.

The participants in the workshop discussed the AFRICOM programme project "Standardization of collections inventories in Africa". Copies of the "Handbook of Standards" (requires a browser with full support for HTML frames) from the AFRICOM Programme were distributed and discussed. There was a general opinion that the "Handbook of Standards" could be modified to suit the needs of the Arab museums. Among other things, the data fields for conservation will have to be more elaborated.

It was suggested to produce a handbook for Arab Countries containing standard inventory forms to be used by the museums.

2.3 Common problems that must be resolved

The proposed project "Standardization of collections inventories in Arab countries" was suggested in four steps:

  • A handbook of standards should be produced by a number of museum professionals who should meet and modify the AFRICOM handbook to meet the standards and conditions in the Arab world, so as to meet the requirements of museums. To ensure international coordination, it was suggested to consult with the ICOM Committee for Documentation (CIDOC).
  • The countries already involved in computerized inventories should meet in order to compare software already developed. The aim should be to cooperate and share software and to secure the possibility of data transfer of at least the minimum data standards.
  • Each museum should be encouraged to make data entry according to the developed standard.
  • Long term guidelines for effective documentation beyond the standardization of inventories should be planned.

It was generally agreed that a committee should be in charge of the start of the project and that RITSEC should have a role in this work.
At a later stage, the project could be part of a regional museology centre for the Arab countries, or each Arab country could have an information centre within the Antiquities Department.

It was hoped that ICOM would help in finding the funds for starting the project of standardization of collections inventories. In that respect it would be necessary that the project be strictly defined and very consistent within specific topics and areas. But at the same time it was stressed that the most important work which is the data entry should remain with the individual museums.


3.1 On the issue of exhibitions

Exhibitions outside one's country
In general, all participants saw the importance of exhibition exchange between the different countries and tend to encourage more exchange. However, many points of concern were raised:

  • The issue of safety in packaging, transport, handling, theft
  • A restoration specialist should be present during packaging, transportation and delivery or unpacking.
  • The duration of exhibits outside the country should not be very long. Successive exhibits should be limited. Long-term loans should be allowed.
  • ICOM's Committee for Museum Security already has literature on this topic. Such literature must be made available to the Arab countries.
  • Legislation on the exchange of exhibits should be adopted by the Arab countries.
  • The need of reciprocity between countries of exchange was stressed. Local exhibits inside the country were proposed.

3.2 On the issue of regional and international cooperation

The participants expressed the need for cooperation and exchange of data expertise and skills between the different Arab countries.

The need to cooperate and benefit from the experiences of international bodies. The need to form an Arab ICOM, and to do so, many national ICOM committees should be created in the different Arab countries and existing ones should be activated and expanded.

Some regional centres already exist, such as the Arab Regional Centre and laboratories for the restoration of cultural properties in the Arab World (in Baghdad), and the Regional Information Technology and the Software Engineering Centre (RITSEC) in Cairo. However, for a number of reasons, the activities of these centres are not publicized for other Arab countries. There is some cooperation between RITSEC and some Arab countries but it is not enough. These regional centres have to be re-activated and publicized. It was suggested that ICOM publish some information about the existing regional centre as part of its directory of Arab museums.


  • The creation of a regional organization of ICOM for the Arab countries whose objective is to coordinate the activities between Arab countries.
  • In the near future, the organization of training courses in museology in appropriate organizations (universities, museums, etc.) and, in the long run, the creation of a training centre for museology.
  • To promote preventive conservation in all museums and sites in the Arab countries.
  • Standardization of inventories of cultural heritage in the Arab world.
  • The participants encourage ICOM and all other relevant organizations to support the Palestinians' demand in re-gaining control over all museums in the occupied territories including the "Palestinian archaeological museum "Rockefeller" in Jerusalem, and also to help in the establishment of new museums in Palestine.

Workshop 3: Research, Ethics and Legislation

In the course of its opening session, the participants in the above workshop decided to organize their discussions into four main themes:

1- A summary of all papers, followed by a general discussion.
2- The relation between research, museums and research policies.
3- Legislation and regulations.
4- Ethics, and proposals for recommendations.

The question of the museum concept in the Arab cultural context was a preliminary question that was raised by the participants. The answers were varied and somewhat contradictive. Part of the participants considered the danger of the historical discourse following the process of decolonization as a proof of the difficulty of promoting a rich and complete identity.

In other respects, it appears that certain regulations of the Arab cultural heritage still ignore the role of the museum as a preservation institute.

The participants also referred to the precarious conditions of Arab museums due to the lack of resources and communication amongst the Arab countries.

It has been noticed that some museums are a legacy of colonialism and should be adapted to better meet the present priorities of Arab societies.

The speakers also asserted that Arab museums are frequently used by decision makers as a cultural showcase reserved for foreigners.

Such a narrow vision does not take into consideration citizens' aspirations to a recognition of their identities.

However, museums should be a privileged forum of transcultural exchanges where the different civilizations are presented far from their origins. More than any other institution, museums should fight against all forms of extremism and promote tolerance.


The need to encourage the creation of ICOM National Committees in order to strengthen the activities of museum professionals in the region was stressed. It is a necessary condition to form an ICOM Regional Organization for the Arab countries (ACOM) according to the ICOM Statutes. Its objectives would be to coordinate the activities of the National Committees and to support the implementation of specific programmes adapted to the actual situation of the Arab world.

The Jordanian Department of Antiquities is entrusted, in cooperation with ICOM, with the preparation of a study to establish such a Regional Organization.
An annual Newsletter presenting the main activities and specialized bibliographies should also be circulated among the Arab museum professionals.
To stress the necessity of a common Arab effort in establishing new and varied museums at every possible opportunity.

The rich cultural heritage of Arab countries in arts, antiquities and science has attracted many of the world's museums which conserve and study this heritage. The present Encounter encourages the establishment of preferential relations between these museums and Arab museums, which should include a permanent and evolving exchange, and stresses cooperation in order to protect and provide extensive information on museum collections.

Organizational flow charts for museums should also be designed which will precisely define staff assignments and set out all rules necessary for good museum management.

A comprehensive review on the functioning of the museums in the region should be undertaken in order to facilitate a common strategy aiming at the development of museology in the Arab countries.

To invite Arab governments to provide financial and moral support to museum professionals, thereby increasing individual effectiveness.

To organize, in cooperation with ICOM, Arab training sessions on museums' activities, in order to broaden individual experience.

To propose the widespread use of computers in all Arab museums, and encourage the exchange of information and experience in this field amongst Arab museums who already use computerized systems. This will be done in cooperation with ICOM and UNESCO.

To increase public awareness, using multimedia and computerization methods in order to stimulate contact between Arab museums and the public.
A magazine should be published, similar to the UNESCO Museum International magazine in order to publicize the results of the scientific researches.

The principles expressed in the ICOM Code of Professional Ethics should be by all means widely publicized amongst the Arab museums. They will be reviewed in order to coordinate them with the existing laws or adopt them universally recognized.

The participants expressed also the need of drawing up national laws which will precisely define all the functions and missions of the museums as heritage preservation tools.

To ask for a unification of the Arab "spirit of the law" concerning the subject of museums and antiquities as a basis for a new Arab legislation.

To invite Arab governments to reinforce their measures to stop the illicit trade in antiquities and to establish Arab and international cooperation to stop smuggling and traffic.

To demand the restitution of all cultural properties that have been stolen during armed conflicts, to help involved museums seeking the return of material, to provide them with all the necessary information to investigate the missing objects and, under the direction of ICOM, to prepare the necessary legal documents with the assistance of UNESCO and its members and international organizations.

To invite Arab countries to present a recommendation to UNESCO asking for a detailed study on the possibility of rectifying international agreements on the protection of cultural properties during armed conflicts (The Hague Convention of 1954), so that they conform to contemporary Arab and international conditions, and to improve the mechanism of these agreements in protecting museums and cultural properties. This should also be applied to agreements relating to the return of stolen antiquities to their countries of origin.

Under the aegis of UNESCO, a review should be undertaken on the situation of the museums in the occupied territories in Palestine. The return of missing cultural property should be requested.

Requests for restitution of missing cultural property before the independences should be made to the UNESCO International Committee for Return and Restitution.

The return of cultural property having been removed during armed conflicts should also be requested.

Finally the participants recommended to support the efforts of UNESCO in order to persuade the non-signatory countries to ratify the UNESCO Convention on the means of preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of cultural property (November 1970) and to persuade the signatory countries to respect their commitments.

Updated: 11 July 2005