Zentrale Kustodie

Göttingen Spirit Summerschool:
The material culture of exploration and academic travel, 1700-1900
24th-29th July 2017


Portrait of Dr Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George Forster 1780, by Jean François Rigaud (1742-1810), oil on canvas; Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. Purchased with funds provided by the Liangis family, the Ian Potter Foundation and John Schaeffer AO 2009

Topic and Purpose

Travel has long been a subject of inquiry in the history of science and scholarship. In recent years, the changes and development of the practices of travel, especially collecting and inscription during the long 18th century, have received special attention. Many studies focused on the changing aims, objectives and perceptions of travel, the collection of data and objects, the visualisation of observations and the collaborative nature of these practices. It has become clear how an earlier encyclopaedic attention was slowly supplanted by specific disciplinary interests and how this also shaped many fields of academic inquiry. Working "in the field" became a requisite of newly developed disciplines, like ethnography and the biological sciences. Indeed, these practices seem to have been instrumental in making scientific and scholarly careers. At the same time, individual observation and inscription became objects of contention and debate themselves. Reports of individuals needed to be supported by new strategies of evidence production, like field diaries or new tools for measuring and recording the observations. Practices of collection, preparation, classification, visualisation, as well as the transfer of specimen and objects were widely discussed and their improvement was fiercely debated. The objects themselves became tokens of evidence, especially after their transportation to the growing institutions of collecting in Europe and elsewhere. They were supposed to verify the travel reports. Comparison or objects and observation became important, too. Cataloguing and the paper tools of collecting were also part and parcel of this development. Since we acknowledge the epistemic value of engaging with objects, visits to the relevant academic collections at the University of Göttingen are an integral part of the program.

In addition to questions concerning the role of objects and collections in the processes of knowledge production, we would also like to address the state and development of object based research in the humanities. How can humanities research be enhanced by engaging with objects? Which methods and theories can successfully be employed in order to achieve meaningful knowledge about these processes on a medium and larger scale?

Each day of the summer school will be dedicated to a specific topic where four to five PhD candidates will present their research and give an introduction to their projects, with one expert commenting and leading the discussion for each project.
James Delbourgo will give a keynote lecture on Monday, 24th July: "Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum"
We will also include a session on how to visually communicate academic research and how to create complex narratives through strategic display. It will also investigate how inquiry into material aspects of objects can enhance research. This object-based session will be led by Lola Sanchez-Jauregui, University of Glasgow, and will involve hands-on experience.

For parents we can offer a child care service during the time of the summer school.

The Summerschool 2017 will take place at Lichtenberg-Kolleg, Historic Observatory.

The summer school will be reflecting travel in four thematic sections:

  • The Natural Lives of Cultural Things: Collecting Materials, Environments and Categories
  • Scientific travels and the spaces and people in-between
  • Imperial infrastructures and scientific travel as a collaborative endeavour
  • Drawing and inscription as practices of mobilisation and insight