Students viewing art at a site visit

ARTH3004: Collecting the World

University of Cincinnati Collections, 1819 to Today


Since 1819, the University of Cincinnati has collected an amazing variety of tangible things. Not only books and manuscripts, but plants, minerals, costumes, artworks, musical instruments, scientific devices, and sports paraphernalia. Everything from an autographed picture of Marie Curie to Neil Armstrong’s flight mask to a life-size, marble Venus carved by Napoleon’s imperial sculptor. How and why did these diverse objects come to the University, and what happened to them once they arrived? In this seminar, we explore the history of collecting at UC and its relationship to the evolution of the University itself, including the development of disciplines such as astronomy, biology, medicine, art, law, history, and classics. Simultaneously, we investigate how collecting the world, so to speak, is a form of history-making in which the material things we select, classify, study, preserve, and display help us understand our place in the universe and motivate us to generate knowledge and tackle global issues.

To do this, we engage directly with UC’s many remarkable collections across campus, confronting objects at first-hand in the archive, laboratory, museum, and other repositories. Grappling with tangible things and consulting with their keepers not only illuminates the history and purpose of our University, but also highlights some of humanity’s toughest challenges during the last two centuries, including those worldwide problems still awaiting resolution.

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