8 July 2020
Collections research cannot be carried out unless we include an analysis of acquisition, growth, loss and circulation. Although these aspects are inherent to collections, to date they have rarely been the explicit subject of research. This is the starting point for the research group, which focuses on individuals and their collecting practices. How are these embedded in collection economies? Which collecting and related working practices can be described as economic? What market mechanisms can influence collections? How is value attributed and how does it change over time? Here the focus is on expenditures for logistics, storage and the creation of infrastructure, which are typically necessary requirements for establishing a collection. The sources on which our studies are based are as diverse as the approaches. Traces of economic activities are to be found in chits, correspondence relating to acquisitions and documents recording sales and endowments as well as in wills, inventories and catalogues. This is why one of the group’s main objectives is to give thought to methodological considerations and develop new modes of evaluation.
The field of study focusing on collection economies comprises a wide spectrum of topics. This diversity is reflected in the group’s composition, which to date consists of 18 researchers from a wide variety of disciplines and contexts, including individuals with backgrounds in bibliology and literary science, history, ethnology and the history of knowledge.
One of the newly formed group’s first tasks was to compile a collection of texts that not only reflects the current state of research but can also be used to ferret out the economic aspects to be found in the ‘classic’ texts of collections research.
We aim to create a common theoretical foundation on the basis of which the group can develop its own research questions tailored to its members’ specific needs, something that could also be of interest to the research community as a whole.
The group’s first meeting was pushed back to autumn 2020 because of the Covid pandemic. In an attempt to shorten this delay, a website was set up in the virtual MWW research space where materials and a digital bibliography was posted, offering a forum where members could exchange ideas. In the future we plan to make this information available to members of the public with an interest in the subject. By the end of the year we hope this digital network will enable us to define key areas of research that can then be followed up in individual workshops. One such focus is the implementation of digital technologies. For example, how can we extract and model economic data from our sources? What methods of processing and evaluation are available to us? How can we visualise this material? Additionally, a summer school is planned for 2022 that will allow us to introduce young researchers to the topic and integrate them into our deliberations. Our final goal is to work together to produce a handbook focusing on the topic of collection economies and combining the results of our research.
The MWW promotes networking and collaboration in the field of collections research. The three research groups, each with its specific focus, are a means of improving networking between the three institutions.
The core theme of collection economies is also being addressed in two case studies based in Wolfenbüttel: ‘Intellectual networks: Early modern scholarly libraries as places of knowledge and communication’ and ‘World knowledge: The cosmopolitan collecting interests of the early modern nobility’. We aim to introduce both projects in subsequent contributions to the research association.