Catalog as Book, File, and Database: Cataloging History, Part 3

Co-written with Steven Lubar on Medium:

This is the third part of a four-part series on the history and theory of museum and exhibition catalogs, focusing on the 1853 New York Crystal Palace. We use the catalogs of the Crystal Palace to consider catalogs (and their descendent, the database) more generally. (This installment is co-authored with Emily Esten.)

Part 1 considered the early history of this genre, tracking its roots to the catalog of the Museum Wormianum and the Louvre, and exploring the variety of uses to which early American museums put published descriptions of their collections and exhibitions. Part 2 looked in detail at the catalogs and guides published by and about the 1853 New York Crystal Palace.

This third part considers the catalog as physical and digital object. The catalog began as a physical thing. It was crafted from the forms submitted by exhibitors and compiled into lists. It was set in type, printed, bound, boxed, and distributed. In the twenty-first century, the physical object was scanned. It became a digital object, a file. It could be used in new ways, put to new purposes. It began a second chapter in its history. Looking closely at process allows us to understand what its creators intended. Looking closely at product allows us to consider the affordances of each of these forms, what it encouraged and allowed.

Read the whole post here.

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