Spring Semester 2011
Why do precisely these objects
which we behold make a world?
–Henry David Thoreau
TANGIBLE THINGS brought together roughly two hundred objects, natural and artificial, drawn from Harvard’s massive collections. The exhibit, which was housed in the second floor Special Exhibitions Galleryof the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments Collection and at other sites around the university, was open to the public and to Harvard students all through spring semester 2011. Based on research conducted by our students over the preceding eight years, it was an effort to energize Harvard’s extraordinary collections in new ways and prompt fundamental questions about knowledge claims in relation to them.
The adventure began in the Science Center. Around the periphery of the second floor gallery were objects displayed according to categories used at Harvard and elsewhere since the nineteenth century, categories that were instrumental in creating the disciplinary boundaries that still define many of our undergraduate concentrations and that still structure many of the world’s museums.
In the middle of the gallery, we placed a cache of seemingly inscrutable things and invited viewers to consider where they might belong. Might some fit comfortably into more than one category? Did others seem to have no place?
Visitors were invited to explore other exhibition spaces on campus looking for “guest objects” we placed there. For example, they may have happened upon an artwork from the Harvard Art Museums in the Harvard Museum of Natural History, an object from the General Artemas Ward House Museum in the Semitic Museum, or a small group of artifacts from the Schlesinger Library in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Some juxtapositions appeared harmonious. Others seemed to transgress cultural norms and expectations. All invited new questions and new ways of thinking about Harvard, its collections, and the world.
Download a handy map leading to other Tangible Things "Guest Object" locations here.
Press about Tangible Things:
The Harvard Gazette
WBUR's Radio Boston (Downloadable mp3)
Top: Detail of Hughes-type Printing Telegraph, Louis-Clément Breguet, c. 1875, Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments
Middle: Paint Palette used by American portraitist John Singer Sargent, Harvard Art Museum
Lower: Belt worn by officer in the Harvard Washington Corps, c. 1823, Harvard University Archives
Printing Knowledge in Early Modern Europe
Patent Republic: Materialities in Intellectual Property in 19th-Century America
Science Center 136
Monday - Friday
11:00am - 4:00pm
Special Exhibitions Gallery
Monday - Friday
9:00am - 5:00pm
Foyer Exhibition Space
Science Center 371
CLOSED FOR INSTALLATION
Free and open to the public.
Children must be escorted by an adult.
Both the Putnam Gallery and Special Exhibitions are closed on University Holidays.
The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments is located inside the Science Center, 1 Oxford Street, on Harvard's Cambridge campus.