Introducing the members of The Collection Ecologies Research Collective – Part 5

It’s a great pleasure to introduce three more members of the collective today. We will start with Anna Toledano. Anna, could you tell us a little about yourseld and your work?

I’m a PhD candidate at Stanford University studying history of science. My dissertation, “Collecting Empire: The Science and Politics of Natural History Museums in New Spain, 1770–1820,” focuses on natural history collecting in eighteenth-century Spain and Spanish America. Most recently, I published a co-authored chapter with Paula Findlen,“The Materials of Natural History,” in the edited volume Worlds of Natural History. Next academic year I’ll be a Dissertation Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. I’m also a museum professional and have developed interpretive and educational content at a variety of museum institutions.

How does this connect to the Collective, Anna?

I combine the skills and methods I’ve learned working both in academia and in museums in my work. For my doctoral research, I not only visited textual archives, but also embedded myself within museum collections. In Madrid, for example, while I spent many days scrolling through microfilms in the archives of the science museum, I also labeled newly collected mouse bones and catalogued bird specimens in order to have personal interactions with the curators and their collections there. I see the focus of the Collective at this intersection of research and practice. While some of our members are more firmly situated in traditional academic contexts and others find themselves in varied professional contexts, we all embrace a diversity of methods, from the historical to the anthropological and beyond.

Birds in the National Museum of Natural Sciences collection, Madrid, 2019, photo by Anna Toledano

Thanks so much Anna. This sounds fascinating. Working across multiple institutions seems to be what we collection ecologists do, right Alice Marples? Tell us about yourself and your work!

I am a historian of science and medicine in Britain and its colonies between 1650 and 1850, and my work focuses on the collection and exchange of natural historical knowledge across a variety of material forms as well as physical and figurative spaces, exploring wide-ranging connections between environments, both urban and natural, and epistemology. My first book, based on my PhD at King’s College London (awarded 2016), is entitled The Transactioneer: Hans Sloane and the Rise of Public Natural History in Eighteenth-Century Britain. It uses the collections and correspondence networks of the founder of the British Museum to demonstrate the relationship between everyday knowledge practices and changing conceptions of society, economy, and nation, and how these significantly altered the priorities and representation of natural philosophical work and, specifically, the operation of the Royal Society. I have published widely on the history of British collecting networks and institutions, from private museums to medical schools, with articles in Archives of Natural History, Historical Research, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, and the Journal for the History of Collections. I am currently based at the University of Oxford on a project examining Isaac Newton’s work at the Royal Mint, where I am focusing on the development of metallurgical and mining knowledge alongside the new financial cultures of early modern Britain.

What draws you to Collection Ecologies, Alice?

Most of my research roles have involved working collaboratively as part of large, multi-institutional and cross-disciplinary projects involving a host of academics, curators, archivists, and other collections specialists. This experience has informed my research on the pluralities of early modern knowledge production, and the changing formations and representations of collections across time and space. As a postdoc at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library at the University of Manchester (2016-2019), I helped co-found the Manchester Centre for Correspondence Studies, and I am currently Heritage and Public Engagement Officer for the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. I think initiatives such as Collection Ecologies can help foster dynamic collaborative research and teaching and increase public understanding of the historical role of museum and library collections in the development of science and society.

Thank you very much, Alice. We are closing today’s introduction with another Early Modernist, Kelly Whitmer. Kelly, tell us a bit about yourself and your latest projects and collaborations?

Hello to all ~ I am an Associate Professor of History at Sewanee: the University of the South, where my research and teaching focuses on the history of science, education and youth in early modernity. Over the years I have pursued an interest in the role of teaching, learning and futurity in the history of collections and collecting practices. I began pursuing this interest in earnest while writing my first book, The Halle Orphanage as Scientific Community (Chicago, 2015), which explored how members of this organization (c. 1700) used models and materials to practice eclecticism as a kind of applied teaching technique. But I still have many lingering questions. This has led me to several related projects, including a collaborative workshop on “Pedagogy and Academic Collections” with wonderful colleagues from the University of Hamburg and Goettingen, where I am currently based as an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Fellow. I am writing a new book now about efforts to cultivate the “material literacy” of young people using collections in several kinds of higher schools, while traveling and at home. “Object lessons” in these contexts were often performative, playful and ideal-imaginary. They were also about learning to apprehend productive practices, social roles and relationships that made realia useful. The object pedagogies I am studying often emphasized the untapped potential of materials in collections and young people, stressing the power of the young imagination and body.     

Neu-eröffnete Kunst- und Schatz-Kammer rarer und neuer Curiositäten, Hamburg 1707

What are some of the reflections and questions you would like to explore in this collective, Kelly?

As I write this new book, I am looking more closely than I have before at the role of natural and political economy, empire, ecology and the role of resource management in the history of collecting more generally. There is so much to read and to learn. In my focus on “youth” as a category of analysis, I am trying to foreground issues of biopolitics and “the uses of use” (following Sarah Ahmed) in collecting, including acts of appropriation and exclusion embedded in collections as material archives. I think I am also really drawn to the group’s interest in the role of labor or work in collecting, including all of the time, logistics and training that maintaining collections involves.  

This is so fascinating too, Kelly. Thank you. There are some really interesting conections between all of your work, Anna, Alice and Kelly and also to the research of other collection ecologists. We cannot wait to exploring all the links and connections together in our collective work. Stay tuned for more!

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