When I was a kid, I saved everything. But like… everything.
As in, I had a little box where I put bent paperclips on the off chance that a bunch of aliens might land and only be willing to call off their destruction of the Earth if someone provided them with a bent paperclip collection.
I mention this not because I want to be featured on an episode of NBC’s Hoarders, but in order to make a bias of mine pretty clear: I’m not the kind of person who questions a collection.
So part of my motivation for this series on archives and collections was to go beyond just marveling at pretty or quirky things all gathered together in one place and to talk a little bit about what motivated the collectors. To actually ask ‘Why?’
And I’ve had a variety of answers.
At the Cotsen Children’s Library, the aggregate of millions of children’s books helps us draw out information about what messages different people in different cultures at different times wanted to give their kids.
Other collections, like the Grounds for Sculpture, are curated to create an experience.
In this interview with Anthony Grafton, we talked about another possible reason for bringing a collection together into an archive: sometimes, the sum of all the parts of a collection–a person’s notes, their annotations, their letters–helps you bring a historical figure back to life.
Listen above to hear the story of Isaac Causabon, resurrected from marginalia.
Have thoughts on collecting? Email me at email@example.com