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Antiquities, past, and present: the Tradescant Collection and its rarities

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My paper will explore the phenomena of early modern collecting, focusing on the Cabinet of Curiosities owned by the Tradescant family now housed in the Ashmolean Museum. Paying attention to the antiquities in the collection, this paper explores early modern ways of seeing in relation to these artefacts, as well as how these objects influenced ideas of identity. Beyond this, the paper will touch on the relationship between antiquities and relics; they share common qualities and could be seen as similar objects despite the differing historic and religious properties of each, and as such were often viewed in lights.

The paper uses the collection of the Tradescant family, as well as its inventory produced by John Tradescant the Younger in the 17th century to explore ideas of antiquity, past, and present, and how these artefacts from the past actively shaped ideas of English identity in the period. This paper does not use grand narratives of nation building or a comprehensive, shared idea of England, but aims to reconstruct views of heritage and nature in view of objects from the distant past. The nature of Wunderkammern will be discussed here, with the order of things they possessed relating to the ordering of early modern cosmology and ideas of the world.

Attention will be given to ideas of history in the 16th and 17th centuries, Cabinets of Curiosities and collections more widely, and the Tradescant collection in particular to discuss how antiquities and artefacts interacted with texts to form ideas of English identity and heritage in the 17th century.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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