The Culture of Collecting

I’ve just started reading “The Cultures of Collecting” (ed. Elsner & Cardinal), and it looks to be a corker.

The science of classification is, in Stephen Jay Gould’s words, ‘truly the mirror of our thoughts, its changes through time [are] the best guide to the history of human perceptions’. And if classification is the mirror of collective humanity’s thoughts and perceptions, then collecting is its material embodiment. Collecting is classification lived, experienced in three dimensions. The history of collecting is this the narrative of how human beings have striven to accommodate, to appropriate and to extend the taxonomies and systems of knowledge they have inherited …

Then a little bit later introduction the notion of rulers and leaders “collecting” individuals is talked about, and how they classify castes, heretics and the like. What struck me was the role of the individual in all this.

In early modern Europe, secular authority collected slaves, while the Churches collected souls. This kind of public collecting was a mission expressing concerns both earthly and spiritual: capitalism and Christianity exhibit reciprocal extremes of collecting in their orientation towards the material and a dimension beyond the material …

In the light of the social perspectives of containment and regulation, one’s identity as an individual may depend on the difference between one’s personal collection and that of one’s parents, or of others. As one becomes conscious of one’s self, one becomes a conscious collector of identity, projecting one’s being onto the objects one chooses to live with.

Well. It’s got little old me gripped!