In the early modern age more people traveled farther than at any
earlier time in human history. Many returned home with stories of
distant lands and at least some of the objects they collected
during their journeys. And those who did not travel eagerly
acquired wondrous materials that arrived from faraway places.
Objects traveled various routes-personal, imperial, missionary, or
trade-and moved not only across space but also across
Histories of the early modern global culture of collecting have
focused for the most part on European Wunderkammern, or
"cabinets of curiosities." But the passion for acquiring unfamiliar
items rippled across many lands. The court in Java marveled at,
collected, and displayed myriad goods brought through its halls.
African princes traded captured members of other African groups so
they could get the newest kinds of cloth produced in Europe. Native
Americans sought colored glass beads made in Europe, often trading
them to other indigenous groups. Items changed hands and crossed
cultural boundaries frequently, often gaining new and valuable
meanings in the process. An object that might have seemed mundane
in some cultures could become a target of veneration in
The fourteen essays in Collecting Across Cultures
represent work by an international group of historians, art
historians, and historians of science. Each author explores a
specific aspect of the cross-cultural history of collecting and
display from the dawn of the sixteenth century to the early decades
of the nineteenth century. As the essays attest, an examination of
early modern collecting in cross-cultural contexts sheds light on
the creative and complicated ways in which objects in collections
served to create knowledge-some factual, some fictional-about
distant peoples in an increasingly transnational world.
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