Archive for April, 2009

My objects of study.

Or, why this semester is truly absurd: heaps of books on my prelims list that I NEED to read…

and pudding. for the paper I have to write tonight instead.


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A beautiful fhaped Earthen Veffel, of a grey colour, with furrows and oblique lines on its furface, very porous, and with a perforated mouth like a cullender, by which it is filled with fair water. The furrows being firft covered with any fmall feeds of fallad herbs, this water oozes through the pores of the Veffel impregnates the feeds to vegetate, and fallad will be fit to cut for eating in fix days.

It’s an ancient chia pet!

and that creepy lamb is, believe it or not, the root of some sort of plant:

Its Root is covered by a sort of Down resembling Wool, and there are Shoots, or Fibres, which serve well enough to represent the Legs and Horns of the vegetable Animal. A very little Help of the Imagination makes it altogether a tolerable Lamb.

I spent a long time in the library today poring over eighteenth-century guides to the British Museum. And yes, one of the books I’m working with makes use of the always-perplexing long “s” (for the unitiated, it just looks like an “f”). I was astounded to learn that the crazy, singular things represented in the plates I’d picked from the illustrated Museum Britannicum guide are actually well-represented in at least one other book. And lucky for me, that book, Guide to the General Contents of the British Museum, was written with me in mind:

The judicious Reader will observe, that I have endeavoured to be as intelligible as possible, making use of very few Words but what are generally understood: I therefore flatter myself, that my Readers among the Ladies will be very numerous…

Today was as exciting a research day as can be expected when you’re working with relatively unexciting materials. The experience of finding “my” objects of study–the piece of coral shaped like a hand, the creepy lamb, an Incrustated Scull and Dagger–in a corroborating source was more than just a sign that I’m actually going to be able to pull together enough material to argue something about these strange things. I can’t explain it, but wandering through the second book–a more portable, unillustrated guide that was designed to walk a reader through the various exhibit halls–and encountering the same objects actually replicated something of the museum-going experience for me. Through cues like “in the corner of the room” or “on the table in front of you,” the text-based guide seems to capture the shifting spatial experience of walking through the galleries. The large-scale plates in the illustrated guide, then, echo the contemplative pauses encouraged by glass display cases. Read (or seen) together, the guides almost give the impression of a first-hand encounter. While, at this point, these things have probably been relegated to an out-of-sight attic in the Natural History Museum, I feel like I’ve really seen them.

I didn’t mean to start writing a paper here. Sorry about that. If you’re lucky, tomorrow I might show you another one of my favorites: “a rough Egyptian Pebble, broken into two Parts; on each Piece is a perfect Resemblance of the Head of Chaucer.”

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