Call for Papers


Cam­bridge, 8 April 2016

Ear­ly modern people unders­tood col­lec­tions of infor­ma­tion as ‘trea­su­ries’, both in a meta­pho­ri­cal and a mate­rial sense. Col­lec­ting and sto­ring infor­ma­tion crea­ted a use­ful cumu­la­tive repo­si­to­ry for present and future refe­rence. Moreo­ver, col­lec­tions were pre­ser­ved in jewel houses or trea­sure rooms, their contents locked up in chests or boxes, thus rein­for­cing the idea that infor­ma­tion was a valuable com­mo­di­ty to which access should be mode­ra­ted. They were situa­ted at the inter­face bet­ween past and future, par­ti­cu­lar docu­ments and lar­ger struc­tures. They also raise ques­tions of secre­cy and access, value and mate­ria­li­ty. In dis­cus­sing trea­su­ries, this one-day work­shop directs the conver­sa­tion towards both their uti­li­ty and value, and their forms and loca­tion.

Col­lec­tions of texts, data, or objects were desi­gned to be sto­re­houses of memo­ry and repo­si­to­ries of infor­ma­tion, and never to pro­vide the kind of direct access to archives that his­to­rians take for gran­ted today. The col­lec­tions through which mate­rials have been pre­ser­ved were never sta­tic or neu­tral but rather consti­tu­ted rich sites of intel­lec­tual and cultu­ral inqui­ry; col­lec­tions acti­ve­ly and inten­tio­nal­ly pre­ser­ved use­ful infor­ma­tion and gene­ra­ted know­ledge through their connec­tions and struc­tures. This approach poses the ques­tion of how to his­to­ri­cise ear­ly modern col­lec­tors’ prac­tices on their own terms, explo­ring how they valued and used the repo­si­to­ries that his­to­rians use to docu­ment their world, rather than impo­sing our twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry concepts on the mate­rial.

His­to­rians, lite­ra­ry scho­lars, cura­tors, and archi­vists are increa­sin­gly attu­ned to the impact of past col­lec­ting and com­pi­ling prac­tices. In their res­pec­tive fields, and more or less inde­pen­dent­ly from each other, scho­lars are star­ting to ana­lyse the nature and struc­ture of their ove­rall source bases with the same level of cri­ti­cal ana­ly­sis that has hither­to been given to the indi­vi­dual items that they contain. Yet the insights gai­ned often have been confi­ned to their sepa­rate fields of stu­dies on either archives, or libra­ries, or museums, while this strand of research which runs through dis­ci­plines invites dia­logue across boun­da­ries. The encom­pas­sing cate­go­ry of ‘trea­su­ries of know­ledge’ chal­lenges our pre-concei­ved typo­lo­gies and pro­vides a com­mon forum for dis­cus­sion and mutual ins­pi­ra­tion.

This work­shop pro­vides a plat­form for fur­ther exchanges among the diverse scho­lars wor­king on col­lec­ting, and invites scho­lars to reflect fur­ther on the com­mon deno­mi­na­tor of the uti­li­ty of col­lec­tions and the signi­fi­cance of their loca­tion and acces­si­bi­li­ty. To enable mana­geable conver­sa­tions, each ses­sion will centre around a par­ti­cu­lar research theme which is cur­rent­ly sha­ping the field. As this is a topic dri­ven by close atten­tion to par­ti­cu­lar source bases, the panels will be based around a series of lin­ked case stu­dies. Toge­ther, our conver­sa­tions will offer space to consi­der the ideals and prac­tices that sha­ped the construc­tion and use of col­lec­tions in the past and the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties invol­ved in pre­ser­ving them for the future.

We invite pro­po­sals for twen­ty-minute papers and wel­come all dis­ci­plines and eve­ry level of aca­de­mic career. Dead­line for sub­mis­sions is 8 Janua­ry 2016. To sub­mit pro­po­sals or ask any fur­ther ques­tions, contact us on

Orga­ni­sers: Lies­beth Corens — Jen­ni­fer Bishop — Tom Hamil­ton