- Copyright Page
- List of Contributors
- Words or Things in American History?
- Artifacts and Their Functions
- Mastery, Artifice, and the Natural Order: A Jewel from the Early Modern Pearl Industry
- Food and Cognition: <i>Henry Norwood’s</i> A Voyage to Virginia
- On Pins and Needles: Straight Pins, Safety Pins, and Spectacularity
- Mind, Time, and Material Engagement
- Material Time
- Remaking the Kitchen, 1800–1850
- Boston Electric: Science by “Mail Order” and Bricolage at Colonial Harvard
- Making Knowledge Claims in the Eighteenth-Century British Museum
- The Ever-Changing Technology and Significance of Silk on the Silk Road
- Science, Play, and the Material Culture of Twentieth-Century American Boyhood
- The Sensory Web of Vision: Enchantment and Agency in Religious Material Culture
- Sensiotics, or the Study of the Senses in Material Culture and History in Africa and Beyond
- The Numinous Body and the Symbolism of Human Remains
- Symbolic Things and Social Performance: Christmas Nativity Scenes in Late Nineteenth-Century Santiago de Chile
- Heritage Religion and the Mormons
- From Confiscation to Collection: The Objects of China’s Cultural Revolution
- Persons and Things in Marseille and Lucca, 1300–1450
- Cloth and the Rituals of Encounter in La Florida: Weaving and Unraveling the Code
- Street “Luxuries”: Food Hawking in Early Modern Rome
- Ebony and Ivory: Pianos, People, Property, and Freedom on the Plantation, 1861–1870
- The Material Culture of Furniture Production in the British Colonies
- Material Culture, Museums, and the Creation of Multiple Meanings
- Chronology and Time: Northern European Coastal Settlements and Societies, c. 500–1050
- Materialities in the Making of World Histories: South Asia and the South Pacific
- Mapping History in Clay and Skin: Strategies for Remembrance among Ga’ anda of Northeastern Nigeria
- Remember Me: Sensibility and the Sacred in Early Mormonism
- Housing History: The Colonial Revival as Consumer Culture
- Collecting as Historical Practice and the Conundrum of the Unmoored Object
Abstract and Keywords
Since at least the eighteenth century, Western museums have constituted a technology for making knowledge claims based on the selection, observation, and categorization of a wide range of material things. The underlying schema of museums has changed little since that time, and it assumes certain fundamental distinctions such as that between things in nature and things human-made (the natural and the artificial), and between interchangeable representatives of kinds (specimens) and unique items valued for their aesthetic properties (artworks). This fundamental schema is so stable and authoritative that it can implicitly overrule conflicting taxonomic and systematic claims about museum collections. One example of such a challenge is the volume by the Dutch artist and medical illustrator active in England in the second half of the eighteenth century, Jan van Rymsdyk, and his son, Andreas or Andrew, Museum Brittanicum (1778; second edition, 1791). Rymsdyk proposes a taxonomy of things in the world based on resemblance rather than differentiation, using the technology of the folio book incorporating detailed realistic engravings after his own and his son’s highly naturalistic watercolor drawings of items in the British Museum. These conditions and practices have considerable implications for how historians might use as evidence actual material things in museum collections and representations of them in whatever medium, analog or digital.
Ivan Gaskell is Professor of Cultural History and Museum Studies at Bard Graduate Center, New York City.
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