Seminar on Collecting and Display

The Royal Collection © 2009Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The History of Collecting is becoming an increasingly important part of Cultural History, with many points of reference to political, social, religious, and gender history. The Collecting and Display Seminar investigates issues related to the history of archaeology and architecture, the history of private collections and museums, the great house, local antiquarians, the history of the natural sciences, court culture and diplomacy. Economic historians have added to our knowledge of the development of art markets in the past and the importance of the art trade, luxury markets, and networks of collectors. There is great interest in these topics both among the academic community and educated public, with highly successful exhibitions on court culture and publications on collections and early archaeology. The fact that there are now MA courses on history of collecting and museology, means that this is no longer the research interest of a few but that such investigations have wider appeal. At the moment there are working groups and projects in several European countries, but these appear to be working primarily on specific research projects or conferences.


In May 2004 a group of three scholars, Susan Bracken, Dr Andrea Gáldy, Adriana Turpin, engaged in research on the History of Collecting, founded the working group Collecting & Display, 100BC to AD1700 with the intention of providing a centre for regular meetings focussing on new research in the history of collecting and related topics. The Institute of Historical Research has agreed to host the monthly seminar meetings of the group. This is a multi-national discussion forum, inviting participants from as wide a geographical range as possible and covering a broad chronological period. ‘100BC to AD1700’ are flexible dates ; however it seems useful to concentrate on a different timeframe than the ‘Grand Tour-Country Houses-Great Museums’ field of research. By going back to the first century BC the group hopes to give a fresh impetus to the History of Collecting, which might otherwise focus too narrowly on Renaissance collections. Geographically, the scope is pan-European but input from scholars working on non-European collections is welcome. Although the main emphasis is on art and artefacts, collections of information, naturalia and mirabilia will also be included. Socially, the group is interested in collections all the way from royal collections to those of private citizens, with a range from the secular to the ecclesiastical.

The Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU