Sunday, 28 January 2018

Collectors: Adding to Our Knowledge of History?

These decontextualised objects in private collections are being used to challenge accepted history:

 Posted on You Tube by: 'UFOmania - The truth is out there', 25th Jan 2018, 176000 views already

The problem is precisely that they are decontextualised artefacts of unknown collecting history (how did they enter the market and from where did they come?) in private ownership where proper analysis is impossible. They have been bought by a collector who considers that they themselves can be the judge of what is the reputability of their source, and that they themselves are uniquely-placed to 'understand' (through some kind of communion with the object) their significance and importance, and these are best 'preserved' through the display of the item in the context created by their collection. This is a characteristic of all collectors of historical and ethnographic artefacts, albeit Greek coins, Roman buckles, tribal masks. In this case, the self-deception and fallacy of these arguments are all the more obvious because almost all of the objects shown have the appearance of being modern products masquerading as ancient artefacts created with the intention for sale to precisely a collector looking for such artefacts to bolster (or on which to base) their personal vision of the past. By this means, through no-questions-asked acquisition strategies, false items are presented in the public domain and through various media as support for misleading pictures of that human past.

The intellectual consequences of collecting were pointed out over two decades ago by Gill and Chippendale and yet the whole problem is still being ignored by the many supporters of artefact hunting and private collecting of artefacts in the academic world. If we are to use private collections as a source of information, surely we need to be taking a much more nuanced view than at present at what collectors collect, how they go about it and why. Than goes for Greek vases as much as metal detecting finds from muddy fields in Lincolnshire - or 'weird stuff' bought on eBay.

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