A craze for collecting swept England during the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries. Aristocrats and middling-sort men alike
crammed their homes full of a bewildering variety of physical
objects: antique coins, scientific instruments, minerals, mummified
corpses, zoological specimens, plants, ethnographic objects from
Asia and the Americas, statues, portraits. Why were these bizarre
jumbles of artifacts so popular?
In Curiosities and Texts, Marjorie Swann demonstrates that
collections of physical objects were central to early modern
English literature and culture. Swann examines the famous
collection of rarities assembled by the Tradescant family; the
development of English natural history; narrative catalogs of
English landscape features that began to appear in the Tudor and
Stuart periods; the writings of Ben Jonson and Robert Herrick; and
the foundation of the British Museum.
Through this wide-ranging series of case studies, Swann addresses
two important questions: How was the collection, which was
understood as a form of cultural capital, appropriated in early
modern England to construct new social selves and modes of
subjectivity? And how did literary texts-both as material objects
and as vehicles of representation-participate in the process of
negotiating the cultural significance of collectors and collecting?
Crafting her unique argument with a balance of detail and insight,
Swann sheds new light on material culture's relationship to
literature, social authority, and personal identity.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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