The New York Crystal Palace exposition was America’s first world’s fair. Exhibitors from around the world showed off their latest machinery, consumer products, and raw materials. The catalog of the 1853 New York Crystal Palace listed most of the items on display and indicated where they might be found. This tool allows you to list the items on display based on their country of origin, and item type (called a “class” in the catalog).
Developed in cooperative collaboration with representatives of Brown’s Center for Digital Scholarship, Cataloging History examines the ways in which traditional museum data can be mobilized to reimagine historical spaces. Using the catalogue as a piece of technology for understanding the past, it also opened a new dialogue for thinking about catalogues of the future. Building on conversations around “collections as data,” this project uses a historical example to pose to both scholars and museums about how cultural heritage may work to be more readily open to computation. How does digital humanities help us unpack historical collections? These visualizations highlight how digital tools can unearth relationships among data to better understand what was there. Cataloging History challenges us to think more deeply about what information is contained in a catalog, about what remains when an exhibition is gone, and about how datasets and tools like these promote the evolution of exhibitions.