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University as Collector on April 24

April 22, 2015Universities are well-known as places that gather experts, all in the pursuit of generating knowledge. Along the way, they also gather historical artifacts. This Friday, April 24, the Radcliffe Institute's "University as Collectorevent aspires to reassess Harvard’s artifactual history and the role of artifacts in university culture more broadly. 

Artifacts are difficult to assess as a whole because they span such a wide range of disciplines, genres, cultural environments, and historical eras; they appear in a variety of university contexts and serve multiple purposes. While many objects are systematically collected as part of the mission of the university—most notably books and artworks, but also herbaria, scientific instruments, and ethnographic artifacts—others, such as portraits and gifts, accumulate over time. Extensive alumni and donor networks contribute personal and other collections.

Some university objects reflect the engagement of academic institutions in excavations and colonial expeditions abroad, while others, particularly works of architecture or outdoor monuments, shape the physical university environment. As universities look inward for resources for teaching and research, individual objects are understood anew by re-viewing them from different angles and in different contexts. In fact, this last is an essential part of the university’s work with its artifacts.

Speakers will assemble from across Harvard communities—the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Design, the Harvard Art Museums, the Harvard libraries, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Peabody Museum, and beyond. Each presenter will examine one exemplary holding at Harvard to consider the insights its presence offers into the world of knowledge. The conference will address not only questions about individual objects, but also larger questions about whether and in what ways universities are unique collecting institutions. Learn more or register to attend here.