The History of Collecting and Exhibiting (1500-present)

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Course Description

  • Course Name

    The History of Collecting and Exhibiting (1500-present)

  • Host University

    Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

  • Location

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • Area of Study


  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    • You acquire knowledge of, and insight into debates and theories on collecting and exhibiting objects of art, culture and science, as well as on collectors and collecting institutions and are able to connect these to long-term developments in the history of collecting and exhibiting.
    • You can explain how the shaping & distribution of knowledge affects the practice of collecting and exhibiting.
    • You acquire basic knowledge of the field of material culture studies (i.e. recent debates about collecting and signification processes).
    • You are able to apply your newly acquired knowledge in an ICT-mediated reflection (blog posts) on theory and experiences
    • You learn how to approach and analyze objects of art, culture and science, as well as photographs as primary sources in historical research.

    Throughout history, museums and collections have reflected shifting perceptions of the world around us. In their turn, the modes of collecting, organizing and displaying that have come to characterize the museum have been translated into the very ways publics think about themselves and their culture. Knowledge is the glue that holds collections together and it can therefore be seen as, in the words of Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, 'the commodity that museums offer' (E. Hooper- Greenhill, Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge (London 1992). In this introductory course of the specialization 'Heritage Studies: histories, memories, spaces', you are familiarized with recent debates and theories on collecting and exhibiting objects of art, culture and science in relation to long-term developments in the history of collecting and exhibiting and the changing meaning and function of collected objects in society.

    You will study (the history of) collections and exhibitions from a variety of disciplinary angles, including art history, medical history, ethnology and cultural history (including religious, non-western and colonial history). Special attention goes to the cultural and political contexts in which collections are shaped and used throughout history. This course provides you with a historical and interpretative framework that will prove useful for the recommended internship in a museum or heritage institution. It also builds upon the knowledge some of you have acquired during the 'Exhibition Machines' course.

    The course is structured around weekly theory lectures and weekly seminars/excursions.

    In the theory lectures we will explore how people have perceived the world around them and how changing perceptions of reality influenced the practice of collecting and displaying throughout history. What was the nature of knowledge at different moments in time, for instance with respect to the body, to other cultures, to tradition in the own society, and how did changes in such knowledge systems come about? By focusing on interrelated themes such as (1) research and classification; (2) collecting science; (3) travelling and exploration; (4) the institutionalisation of collecting and the role of private societies like the Dutch Antiquity Society, and (5) the development of reproduction techniques and the emergence of photography, we will discuss the contingently changing realities of museums and collections.

    During the seminars we visit museums and private collections, either in groups or individually. During this field work students are able to relate their newly acquired knowledge to historical and current collecting and museum practice. The seminars are also meant for in-depth analysis of course literature, discussions about themes and concepts that were introduced during theory lectures and reflections on actualities.

    All lectures and classes are mandatory. Each week, 1 or 2 students write a blogpost of 450-500 words and the others respond. Moreover, everyone ‘collects’ one object per week and makes a full object description according to a standard developed in class. You are expected to put together a virtual exhibition and compose an accompanying catalogue as the final result of the course. The objects displayed in these individual exhibitions are the ones that each student has selected during the field work in the museums.

    Preparation for excursions and active participation in class 10%
    Weekly blog posts 30%
    Final Catalogue 60%

    For international exchange students (level 200-300) from other disciplines a basic knowledge of (art) history is required. 

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

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