Collecting and Collections

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

The course will provide an introduction to histories, theories and practices of collecting, drawing on a range of Asian and African case studies. It explores different approaches to collecting across cultures and historical periods, shifting patterns of taste and connoisseurship, individal as well as institutional collecting motivations. It will combine theoretical approaches to collecting with detailed discussions of individual collectors. There will be a particular focus on the role of the museum, historically and in the present, in the production of cultural value and meaning to objects. The course will also examine the role of the art market – auction houses and dealers - in determining and manifesting taste. Topics range from court collections, colonialism and collecting, Modernism and collecting, national collections, the business of collecting, as well as post-colonial collecting practices. The course will also include study-visits to museum collections in London. Due to the ongoing covid-19 situation, museum visits may be rescheduled or substituted subject to museum opening hours and accessibility in accordance with government guidelines and recommendations.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • demonstrate a knowledge of histories and practices of collecting, particularly in relation to Asian and African collections.
  • demonstrate an understanding of key theories of collecting and apply these to a range of Asian and African collections.
  • an understanding of the influences on particular collectors, collections and collecting institutions.
  • appreciate different approaches and attitudes to collecting, from both historical and contemporary perspectives.
  • recognise diverse influences on the practices and fashions of collecting in differenthistorical periods and different parts of the world.
  • identify individual and institutional patterns of collecting.
  • research a topic and construct a bibliography.


Two hour lecture

Method of assessment

  • One exam (worth 50%)
  • One 750-word review (worth 20%)
  • One 1,500-word essay (worth 30%)

Suggested reading

  • Elsner and Cardinal (ed) (19984) 'The Cultures of Collecting', London: Reaktion Books
  • Impey, Oliver, and Arthur MacGregor (eds) (1985) 'The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth-and Seventeenth-Century Europe', Oxford: Clarendon.
  • Pearce, Susan (1995) 'On Collecting: An Investigation into Collecting in the European Tradition', London: Routledge.
  • Pierson, Stacey (2007) 'Collectors, Collections and Museums: the Field of Chinese Ceramics in Britain, 1560-1960', Oxford; New York: Peter Lang.
  • Pomian, Krzysztof (1990) 'Collectors and curiosities, Paris and Venice, 1500 1800', Cambridge: Polity.
  • Rujivacharakul, Vimalin (2011) 'Collecting China: The World, China, and a Short History of Collecting', University of Delaware Press
  • Shelton, Anthony (ed) (2001) 'Collectors: individuals and institutions', The Horniman Museum and Gardens and Museu Antropológico da Universidade de Coimbra.
  • Shelton, Anthony (ed) (2001) 'Collectors: expressions of self and other', London: The Horniman Museum and Gardens and Museu Antropológico da Universidade de Coimbra.
  • Steuber, Jason, and Lai, Guolang (eds) (2014) 'Collectors, Collections and Collecting the Arts of China: Histories and Challenges', University of Florida Press.
  • Tythacott, Louise (2011) 'The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display', Oxford and New York: Berghahn.


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