The History of Collecting and Exhibiting (1500-present)


Course Objective

• You acquire knowledge of, and insight into debates and theories on
collecting and exhibiting objects of art, culture and science, as well
as on collectors and collecting institutions and are able to connect
these to long-term developments in the history of collecting and
• You can explain how the shaping & distribution of knowledge affects
the practice of collecting and exhibiting.
• You acquire basic knowledge of the field of material culture studies
(i.e. recent debates about collecting and signification processes).
• You are able to apply your newly acquired knowledge in an ICT-mediated
reflection (blog posts) on theory and experiences
• You learn how to approach and analyze objects of art, culture and
science, as well as photographs as primary sources in historical

Course Content

Throughout history, museums and collections have reflected shifting
perceptions of the world around us. In their turn, the modes of
collecting, organizing and displaying that have come to characterize the
museum have been translated into the very ways publics think about
themselves and their culture. Knowledge is the glue that holds
collections together and it can therefore be seen as, in the words of
Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, 'the commodity that museums offer' (E. Hooper-
Greenhill, Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge (London 1992).
In this introductory course of the specialization 'Heritage Studies:
histories, memories, spaces', you are familiarized with recent debates
and theories on collecting and exhibiting objects of art, culture and
science in relation to long-term developments in the history of
collecting and exhibiting and the changing meaning and function of
collected objects in society.
You will study (the history of) collections and exhibitions from a
variety of disciplinary angles, including art history, medical history,
ethnology and cultural history (including religious, non-western and
colonial history). Special attention goes to the cultural and political
contexts in which collections are shaped and used throughout history.
This course provides you with a historical and interpretative framework
that will prove useful for the recommended internship in a museum or
heritage institution. It also builds upon the knowledge some of you have
acquired during the 'Exhibition Machines' course.

Teaching Methods

The course is structured around weekly theory lectures and weekly
seminars/excursions. The theory lectures are scheduled on Tuesdays. In
many ways, collections can be seen as windows to the world.
In the theory lectures we will explore how people have perceived the
world around them and how changing perceptions of reality influenced the
practice of collecting and displaying throughout history. What was the
nature of knowledge at different moments in time, for instance with
respect to the body, to other cultures, to tradition in the own society,
and how did changes in such knowledge systems come about? By focusing on
interrelated themes such as (1) research and classification; (2)
collecting science; (3) travelling and exploration; (4) the
institutionalisation of collecting and the role of private societies
like the Dutch Antiquity Society, and (5) the development of
reproduction techniques and the emergence of photography, we will
discuss the contingently changing realities of museums and collections.
During the seminars on Fridays we visit museums and private collections,
either in groups or individually. During this field work students are
able to relate their newly acquired knowledge to historical and current
collecting and museum practice. The seminars are also meant for in-depth
analysis of course literature, discussions about themes and concepts
that were introduced during theory lectures and reflections on

Method of Assessment

All lectures and classes are mandatory. Each week, 1 or 2 students write
a blogpost of 450-500 words and the others respond. Moreover, everyone
‘collects’ one object per week and makes a full object description
according to a standard developed in class. You are expected to put
together a virtual exhibition and compose an accompanying catalogue as
the final result of the course. The objects displayed in these
individual exhibitions are the ones that each student has selected
during the field work in the museums.
Preparation for excursions and active participation in class 10%
Weekly blog posts 30%
Final Catalogue 60%

Entry Requirements

This is a BA2 history course, open for MKDA and History students. For
international exchange students (level 200-300) from other disciplines a
basic knowledge of (art) history is required. Since we will do research
on Dutch archival sources, basic Dutch skills are helpful.


Harm Stevens, Bitter Spice, Indonesia and the Netherlands from 1600
(Amsterdam/Nijmegen 2015).
Other course reading to be announced in Canvas
Make sure you have a Museumcard for the field work sessions.

Target Audience

BA2 History students, BA2 and BA3 MKDA students, International
humanities students, level 200-300.

Additional Information

This course is obligatory in the second year for students of History
with a 'Heritage studies: histories, memories, spaces'- specialization.
For them this course is a prerequisite for the second year course 'World
Heritage: Historical sites, Contemporary Debates', and the third year
courses 'Slavery and slave trade: history and memory' and 'How business
and politics use history: financial cultures and heritage'. The course
is complementary as well to the MKDA-course 'Exhibition Machines' and
also welcomes MKDA-students (minor). For international exchange students
at BA2 or BA3 level a basic knowledge of (art) history is required.

General Information

Course Code L_GABAGES221
Credits 6 EC
Period P2
Course Level 200
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator dr. G. Siertsema
Examiner dr. G. Siertsema
Teaching Staff prof. dr. W.M.H. Hupperetz
dr. W.A.H. Modest
prof. dr. S. Legene
prof. dr. ir. F.J. Dijksterhuis
dr. G. Siertsema

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Seminar, Lecture, Excursion
Target audiences

This course is also available as: