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There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy'

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Title: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy'


1
There are more things in heaven and earth,
Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
2
For Shakespeares contemporary, Francis Bacon,
heaven and earth could be contained, as he said,
in a goodly huge cabinet wherein whatsoever the
hand of man by exquisite art or engine has made
rare in stuff, form or motion whatsoever
singularity, chance and the shuffle of things
hath produced whatsoever Nature has wrought in
things that want life
3
The Cabinet of Curiosities attempted to achieve
within a small compass a model of the universe
made private.
4
However, unlike modern museum collections,
collections found in early modern cabinets of
curiosity had no apparent organizing principle
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What was discernable was not a narrative of
progress, the unfolding of an evolutionary
process, a verisimilar representation of a given
culture or time, but a seemingly disordered
jumble of unrelated natural and artificial objects
6
For example, in the seventeenth century cabinet
of Sir Walter Cope one could find holy relics
from a Spanish ship earthen pitchers and
porcelain from China a Madonna made of feathers,
a chain made of monkey teeth, stone shears, a
back-scratcher, and a canoe with paddles, all
from "India" a Javanese costume, Arabian coats
the horn and tail of a rhinoceros, the horn of a
bull seal, a round horn that had grown on an
Englishwoman's forehead, a unicorn's tail the
baubles and bells of Henry VIII's fool, the
Turkish emperor's golden seal . . .
7
Unicorn horns, fossils, crocodiles hanging from
the ceiling, works of art, scientific instruments
and marvels of natureall were collected in the
enclosed space of the cabinet. A microcosm of
the universenot because their collected objects
were somehow considered representative, but
because they proved the case of the normal, the
regular and predictable by their contradiction of
all that was ordinary and everyday.
8
The identification of something as singular,
rare, bizarre or wonderful presupposed the
articulation of a background against which it
could so strikingly stand out. However,
curiosities were used not simply because they
stood-out, but because of their power to
stand-for which is to say, they were noticed,
chosen, made and used for their ability to
emblematically direct observers to larger social,
cultural and spiritual narratives
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In Early Modern Europe, there was a growing
awareness that Man was living in a Fallen
(postlapsarian) world.
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The cabinet was, in a sense, an attempt to
capture the fallen world in a new kind of Arc.
11
Infinitesimally small worlds created within the
confines of a room would enclose the entire
expanse of the universe, thereby attracting, like
so many glittering gems, the eyes of elites and
aristocrats who could bestow power and authority
upon the collector and his collections.
Collectors such as Athanasius Kircher.
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Kirchers Arca Noë
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The Museum Kircherianum in Rome.
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Kirchers museum in 1852 before the dispersion of
its contents.
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Singularities, wonders and the practices that
corresponded to their possession, display and
control were powerful mediums of exchange in
aristocratic culture.
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A tankard made from a unicorns horn for
Rudolph II.
A bejeweled ostrich egg goblet
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Curiosities and wonders, like relics, were a
means of conferring status and authority they
were empowered to do this not simply because they
were rarities that could be possessed by only a
very special few, but because they carried with
them the sense of unmediated contact with another
world.
19
The singularities in the collection referredat
one and the same timeto Gods infinite
generative capacity to enact his will (potentia
dei absoluta) and to the collectors analogous
power to possess and unify the natural and human
worlds.
20
In the cabinet, one could spin on ones heels
stretch out ones arms and take inand wonder
atall the world.
21
New worlds, new peoples, new religions, new
customs, new plants, animals, products, etc., the
cabinet was less a celebration of diversity, than
an epistemic, aesthetic and political response to
a destabilized world an attempt to contain and
explain it, to find an orderthe orderagain, and
to have power over it.
22
Some have seen the curiosity cabinet as
integrally related to the Scientific Revolution.
Yet wonders capacious embrace held truth along
with falsity, fact along with fiction, novelty
along with myth. Credulity and curiosity seem to
have gone hand in hand in the Early Modern
period. The curiosity cabinet was thus less a
harbinger of the birth of a new
empiricalworldlyscience, than a kind of theater
display where art, artifice and nature could
co-mingle.
23
Collectors like Athanasius Kircher and Ulysse
Aldrovandi collected and invented the strangest
of the strange, trafficking in what the
nineteenth century would label freaks and human
oddities Siamese twins, giants and dwarves
physical deformities, historical speculations
about ancient Egypt and fantastic theories about
the nature of Gods will and the structure of
natural world.
24
Most collectors also published books and
catalogues. These ought not be considered as
distinct from encyclopedic cabinets, but
extensions of them. The Jesuit polymath
Athanasius Kircher, for example, produced some 60
copiously illustrated volumes on subjects as
diverse as astronomy, geology, ancient Egypt,
magnetism, music, natural wonders and philology.
25
The proliferation of printed texts, like the
proliferation of collections, did not necessarily
mean progress, but tended to reinforce old errors
by giving them a new kind of ubiquity.
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On the one hand, the collection of books, like
the collection of objects in a cabinet, made it
possible for individuals to examine and
investigate diverse theories and material
exemplum. This made it possible for them to
establish regularity, law-like order and
scientific truth.
27
On the other hand, though books made it possible
for new facts and theories to be examined and
tested by an increasingly sophisticated reading
public, the widespread publication of works, such
as those by Mandeville and Pliny, as well as by
the newsupposedly more empirically-mindedcolle
ctors, reached a wider and wider audience.
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Truth and fiction thus continued to co-mingle
incestuously within the encyclopedic texts and
collections of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries.
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The claims to universality embedded in cabinets
and their textual counterparts have a close
historical relationship to the belief that
universities by their collections of experts,
objects and bookswere (and are) microcosms of
universal knowledge.
49
Though characterized by disciplinary specific and
taxonomically precisei.e., scientificarticulatio
ns of social and natural knowledge, the
university attempts to collect, in confined
locales and cultures, the sum of all human and
natural knowledge.
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In this sense, the University of Michigans
Collections are no less emblematic of this quest
for universality than Kirchers.
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UM Museum of Anthropology
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UM Paleontology Museum
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Detroit Observatory
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UM Museum of Zoology Fish Collection
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UM Herbarium Fungus Collection
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UM Herbarium, Kriegers Watercolor of Fungus
Collection
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UM Museum of Art
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Special Collections
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UM Papyrus Collection
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Kelsey Museum of Archeology
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The collecting and display practices of the
modern university, however, have little to do
with those that operated in the early modern
cabinet of curiosities. The universitys claims
to universality depend on rigorous peer
sanctioned methods and disciplinary standards.
The topsy turvey jumble of wondrous man-made and
discovered objects found in a cabinet seem
closer to nineteenth century sideshows and circus
tents than to modern museological practice and
scientific collecting methods. Indeed, though
there might be room for wonder in the modern
collection, there is little or no place for the
fictional narrative, the made-up fact or the
fantastic lie.
70
We neednt look to circuses and sideshows to find
a modern analogue to the early modern cabinet of
curiosities, however, for a much more apt
comparison can be found in the Internet. The
Internet is a microcosm, in the true sense of the
word. Indeed, what cant be found on the
plugged-in screen?
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CabiNET
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What is truth in a virtual universe? What are the
standards of measurement, accuracy and validity,
how are they determined and adjudicated. Where
does fact leave off and fiction begin? Is seeing
believing or isnt it?
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Seeing is believingor is it?
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