The Nature of Exotic Shells: Labor and the Costs of Visibility

Research Seminar

  • Online event via Zoom
  • Date: Apr 7, 2021
  • Time: 03:00 PM - 05:00 PM (Local Time Germany)
  • Speaker: Claudia Swan
  • Contact:
The Nature of Exotic Shells: Labor and the Costs of Visibility
Throughout the early modern era, European collectors of exotic objects such as shells performed elaborate rituals of natural historical and aesthetic discernment in the spaces of their studies and cabinets. Where and how were shells—and other exotic specimens—found? How and by virtue of what forms of labor did they arrive in the spaces of early modern collections?

This talk traces the passage of shells from exotic beaches and waters to European spaces of collecting, appreciation, and scientific observation, paying attention to the sorts of labor subsumed under the aegis of devotion to rarities. That sociable interactions and networks undergird natural history and the culture of curiosity is not news. What this talk brings to a social analysis of the production of early modern science is a focus on the forms of labor that were key to making Dutch natural history visible in collections and in publications. Its focus is on a signal publication on shells by the German-born naturalist Georgius Eberhard Rumphius (1627-1702), who lived out his life in the Dutch East Indies: D’Amboinsche rariteitkamer.

Claudia Swan is the inaugural Mark Steinberg Weil Professor of Art History & Archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis, and the author, most recently of Rarities of these Lands. Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Dutch Republic (Princeton University Press, 2021). She is co-author, with Marisa Bass, Anne Goldgar, and Hanneke Grootenboer, of Conchophilia. Shells, Art, and Curiosity in Early Modern Europe (forthcoming, Princeton University Press, 2021).

For participation via Zoom, please register HERE.

Scientific organization: Katherine Reinhart

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