wunderkammern


I've added this page to feed my interest in the concept of the museum and its origins in the cabinets of curiosity that inspired them. The page will begin with links to relevant sources, but students are welcome to participate and add whole "cabinets" or simply "shelves." I'm also open to suggestions.

I see this space as a refuge from course work, so anything (well, almost anything) goes. I'll reorganize as necessary.

In may of 2008 I created a blog on the subject (more or less) of Wunderkammern: Owl's Cabinet of Wonders. Feel free to participate--but clean up your grammar and spelling if you don't want me to chastize you in public. I don't have as much time to devote to this blog as I'd like, but there are a few bits that might be interesting. At some point I plan to exhibit student work here.


The word "museum" is Latinized from the Greek museion, or temple of the muses. These mythical characters governed several aspects of Greek intellectual life. Calliope was the muse of epic poetry, Clio of history, Erato of love poetry, Euterpe of music, Melpomene of tragedy, Polyhymnia of sacred poetry, Terpsichore of dance, Thalia of comedy and idyllic poetry*, and Urania of Astronomy. Note that the provinces of these minor goddesses were not strictly the arts--or at least not the arts as modern society likes to think of them. The study of museums, therefore, also includes understanding the relationships among all of the elements represented by the muses.

*I only recently discovered something curious about my great aunt Myrtle T. Myles (my grandmother's elder sister by eleven years). She was a Nevada history scholar (who wrote a book about Nevada's Governors), and I always thought the T stood for Tate (her maiden name). However, whilst messing about in family historical documents I came across her signature: Myrtle Thaleia Tate. But when I looked for a link to the book, I saw that she actually went by Myrtle Tate Myles. I still think Thaleia is a splendid middle name, and I plan to name a character after her.

Anyway, early museums were a natural outgrowth of the passion for Wunderkammern, or Cabinets of Curiosity. Some of this history is explored in the first set of links.

The history of museums and museum collections

A History of Museums and Ethnographic Collections: These pages offer information and commentary on museum history in Great Britain, but since this is where museums and museology came into their own, the information is valuable. Museums essentially began as "cabinets of curiosity," containing artifacts collected by explorers, and these grew into the first museum collections. Likewise, art museums grew out of private collections, so the museum as an institution really developed as a marriage of different kinds of collected items.

When Museums Were Young: "Wonder Cabinets": This article from the "Right Now" section of the online Harvard Magazine provides a concise history of the concept of museums.

An article by Michael Kimmelman, art critic for the New York Times may be helpful: Museums Built on a Passion to Collect . . . Anything. (Registration may be required, but it's free and they don't spam you.)

Favorite museum sites

I keep coming across terrifically inventive and interesting web spaces devoted to this general topic. The following are among the best:

The Museum of Jurassic Technology: Here I defer to "Hal" who maintains a review page for the Journal of Chemical Education: "In Culver City, California, David Wilson operates The Museum of Jurassic Technology. There, the visitor learns that the breath of a duck will cure children of fungal infections of the mouth, and that bedwetting is curable by "eating a mouse on toast, fur and all". All of the exhibits are properly researched and referenced, but many of the sources lead the inquisitive visitor to slightly warped sources. In fact, Mr. Wilson's museum is as much a work of art and imagination as it is of science. Its purpose is to reawaken our sense of wonder. Mr. Weschler leads the reader through a fascinating history of museums of natural science and the "Cabinets of Wonder" that preceded them. A precursor can be found in the September, 1994 Harper's Magazine . . ." In 2001 David Wilson was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (a so-called "genius" grant). A book about the Museum, called Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder offers an entertaining and enlightening account by Lawrence Weschler.

Joshua Foer's Atlas Obscura: as the "about" page notes, this site is "the definitive guide to the world's wondrous and curious places."

Cabinet Magazine is a superb online supplement to the hard-copy version of what amounts to a literary Cabinet of Curiosities. The content is eclectic, and each issue centers on a theme (most recently: insecurity). Graphic designers might well find its layout and overall design somewhat inspirational (it's sometimes available at Barnes and Noble locally).

The Museum of Dust is a blog "Providing sancturary for the misplaced, the forgotten and the misbegotten since 2006." This site actually inspired me to set up my own blog (on an entirely different topic); it's so good that it seduced me into blogness. But the proprietor has been on walkabout since 2010. I must remember to try to get back in touch, because she's always involved in something interesting.

Thanatos.net is a page devoted to death (hence the name, the Greek word for death)--mostly images. It has a forum and features some interesting topics, but isn't for the faint of heart.

Nick Bantock is an almost irresistable artist for those of us interested curiosity cabinets, because his work encompasses so many aspects of "collection." His book, The Museum at Purgatory is about collecting, and The Forgetting Room is a novel about learning how to paint (it's also a mystery story) by drawing inspriation from a box of interesting items (it's in the Kelley Library). Bantock's Wasnick Blog is a Wunderkammer unto itself.

Mark Dion defies definition. Explorer? Archaeologist? Crazy Person? Google him for more exhibitions. The link is to the episode on Dion at the PBS program Art21. Here's an Observer article about him. I'm especially glad to be teaching Design History again in the Summer, because I'll get to talk about him.

Cabinet of Curiosities doesn't provide much information, but the pictures are pretty and the objects are curious.

Strange Science: The Rocky Road to Modern Paleontology and Biology isn't a museum proper, but perhaps a museum of ideas.

The Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford: The newsletter of this noble institution (Sphaera) is eternally fascinating to nutcases like Yours Truly. If you ever doubt the relationship between art and technology, this is a place to explore. Even better, however, are articles on such wonders as geometric solids and astrolabes--scientific objects and instruments that are art works in themselves. Look through the archives of the newsletter for interesting bits of information to amaze your friends and relatives. It's great date bate. For some of us.

The Athanaeus Kircher Society: Now, you wouldn't think that an old skeptic like me would go in for a flaky guy like Kircher, but he represents the pre-modern scientific viewpoint pretty well. This is a terrific page, full of all kinds of interesting stuff, even though some of it is utterly dismissable. Note: the Kircher Society is apparently now associated with Atlas Obscura, mentioned above.

 

Blogs

Owl's Cabinet of Wonders: my own blogic entry into the cyberworld of museology. I collect all kinds of stuff here--from recipes to family history and random observations about the world. The blog was, in fact, begun primarily as a gift to my uncle, in honor of his 75th birthday in 2009. He's now 81 and I think it would be more effective if I just started writing to him again.

Jessica Polka's Wunderkammer: a blog featuring creative work inspired by items in old cabinets of curiosity.

Heather McDougal's Cabinet of Wonders: which is about "Bringing the Early Age of Enlightenment to the modern world"; I found this through

Gimbal Lock, which is concerned with many things I find fascinating. Since I found it a short while ago, I have been introduced to more interesting stuff than I could ever have predicted. The author isn't any better at keeping up his blog than I am mine, but the archive is full of wondrous things. Updates: none since 2011.

Serenity Now: a fellow Firefly fan, who lives in Oklahoma, muses on a wide range of curiosities. She's since moved on to different topics, but her archive is also terrific. Her newer blog is Prairie Gothic.

Idols of the Cave: Not so much a blog (although blog-ish), this is an actual Wunderkammer executed by a physicist with time on his hands (and eclectic interests) to collect objects for his cabinet. I came across his site through the MOOC I'm currently taking, which is about space in Scandinavian sagas. One of the maps we're studying (the Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus) features a "Monstrous Sea Pig." Alex Boxer, the collecting physicist, decided he wanted one for his collection, and one of the instructors posted a link to his site. And to think that I once thought that the substitution of the internet for periodical indices would spell the end of serendipity.

More to come; there are many more people who are nuts about this sort of thing than you imagine. I am not alone!

Online Museum Sources

Love Museums? Hate Pants? Try these Virtual Museum Tours from your PC. This is a post on Digital Trends (May 2013) by Meghan McDonough. I've mentioned most of these elsewhere, but here they are in one place.

More of these will follow when I have time.

Museum Links

The trouble with links pages is that if one only updates ones pages ever five years, stuff falls of the edge of the earth--over there where there be monsters (like the aforementioned sea pig). So most of the stuff I once had listed here is gone. However, here are a couple of replacements:

A post on Musemmedia devoted to 100 Best Curator and Museum Blogs. The host site, from the Netherlands, focuses on "video and digital media in your museum." The Dutch know how to do this stuff.

The Met has a page of blogs, each devoted to a different aspect of museuming. This should probably be down below, under "Art Museums," but there are more curiosities here than just art.

Flickr's Wunderkammer page is mostly about pictures, and comments about pictures, related to museum collections. Some of these show up on my new favorite place to hang out, the Museum of Dust.

Science and History Museums

Natural History Museums and Collections Worldwide: a clearinghouse for museums focusing on the natural world, divided by region.

The Open Directory Project's page on museums that have anything to do with history

Art Museums

greenmuseum.org: I just located this very interesting and expansive online museum devoted to environmental art. It alone provides ample evidence of the relationships that exist among art, science, technology, and ecology.

This section needs lots of work. But I'm just going to put odd art museums here, when I've got more time to fool around.

Local Museums

Fair Park: African American Museum, Dallas Historical Society, the Women's Museum.

Downtown Dallas: the Dallas Museum of Art, the Trammel and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, the McKinney Avenue Contemporary (be sure to phone ahead to see what's showing at the Mac; exhibits there seem to be somewhat ephemeral events), the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Latino Cultural Center. Also in Dallas: The Meadows Museum (SMU Campus) and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

Fort Worth: The Kimbell Art Museum, the Amon Carter Museum, the Museum of Science and History, the Modern Art Museum.

owldroppings
05.20.15