Cabinets of curiosities (also known as Cabinets of Wonder, Wunderkammer, Kunstkammer or Kunstkabinette) were encyclopedic collections of objects whose categorical boundaries were, in 16th-18th century Europe, yet to be defined. In modern terminology one would categorize the objects included as belonging to geology, archeology, ethnography, natural history, works of art, numismatic, religious or historical relics and antiquities. The Cabinets of curiosities was regarded as a microcosm or theater of the world, and a memory theater. The Cabinets of curiosities conveyed symbolically the patron’s control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction. The best known Cabinets of curiosities are the ones build by rulers and princes like the ”Green vaults” (Grünes Gewölbe) of August the Strong (1670-1733) in Dresden or the Kunstkammer of Peter the Great (1672-1725) in St. Petersburg but there were many merchants or academics who build their own cabinets of curiosities like Ole Worm, known as Olaus Wormius (1588–1654) and Bonifacius Amerbach (1495–1562) and his son Basilius Amerbach (1533-1591). The Cabinets of wonders were extended by buying orders from the collectors to their agents or by gifting and regifting various items between the collectors themselves.
The research will evolve around the question of how these collectors of Cabinets of curiosities organized their knowledge and defined the objects categorical boundaries and what caused the collectors to build their cabinets of curiosities. Based on these questions the research will try to answer the questions how the parts of the collections became knowledge and what was the ”Weltanschauung” (worldview) of these collectors.
The research will present a social history of knowledge based on the microcosm of collectors and their Cabinets of curiosities and will deal with the acquisition and transmission of knowledge, its ‘construction’ and ‘production’ and with practices such as classification and experiments. The group of collectors will be analyzed according the theories of the “New sociology of knowledge” and in particular the approach of microsociology which is concerned with the everyday life of small groups, circles, networks or ‘epistemological communities’ and sees those as the fundamental units which construct knowledge and directs its diffusion through certain channels. These ‘epistemological communities’ are often studied through the micro-spaces in which they work. In the research the micro space will be relations between the collectors and their buying agents on the one hand and the relations between the collectors themselves.
So far only a few historians have taken the sociology of knowledge serious and there exists a lacuna in the field of humanities. Researching this topic is particularly interesting because social history of knowledge is normally not seen as a field but rather as a collection of disciplines or subdisciplines such as bibliography, the history of science, the history of reading, intellectual history, the history of cartography and the history of historiography. This research has as its goals to fill this lacuna somewhat and provide an alternative view on how knowledge was organized in 16th-18th century Europe through the eyes of collectors from the bourgeoisie and not particularly only academics.