Catalogues and the ordering of knowledge: The role played by systematic catalogues in debates over the classification and naming of zoological species in the British Museum’s Department of Natural History, ca. 1750-1850

Heather MacNeil

Abstract

With the establishment of the British Museum in 1753, significant collections of books, objects, and manuscripts moved out of private hands to become part of the cultural patrimony of Great Britain, prompting debates about the collecting and ordering of knowledge as the Museum began to position itself as a public knowledge institution. Not surprisingly, such debates revolved, in part, around the Museum’s catalogues and cataloguing practices. In my paper, I focus on one of those debates, exploring the role played by systematic catalogues in the classification and naming of zoological species in the British Museum’s Department of Natural History between the second half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century. The paper draws on research from a  larger project exploring the distinct histories and traditions within and across the disciplinary and professional cultures of libraries, archives, and museums.

 

Bio

Heather MacNeil is a professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto where she teaches courses on archival concepts and issues, the arrangement and description of archival documents, and cross-disciplinary perspectives on archives and archival finding aids as cultural texts and archival description as rhetorical genre. She is the author of Without Consent (1992) and Trusting Records: Legal, Historical and Diplomatic Perspectives (2000) and co-editor, along with Terry Eastwood, of the first and second editions of Currents of Archival Thinking (2010; 2017). In her current research, she is investigating the past, present, and possible future of the museum object catalogue.