Anne MacKinney: Building Nature’s Archive: The Management of Paper and Specimens in the Berlin Zoological Museum
Vortrag im Rahmen des History of Science Society Annual Meeting in Utrecht (NL)
In the first years of its existence between 1810 and 1815, the Royal Zoological Museum in Berlin processed just over 60 new animal specimens into its collection. In the few years following, this modest number of incoming specimens had exploded into the thousands, such that the museum’s shelves were already running out of room by 1818. New paper technologies needed to be developed to oversee and control the flow of material into, within, and back out of the collection institution. As the museum’s growth rate continued to accelerate, it soon became not only a problem of managing specimens, but also one of managing the “constantly growing mass of paper,” as museum director Martin Hinrich Lichtenstein lamented in 1819. This talk will analyze both the lists, catalogs and inventories designed to trace the movements of specimens as well as the archival infrastructure that Lichtenstein erected to maintain these very paper tools. Moreover, I will contextualize the museum director’s attempts to keep track of both the institution’s objects and its papers within broader shifts in Prussia’s state bureaucracy and archival landscape. By focusing on the transformation of recordkeeping practices in the museum’s early decades, the talk ultimately illuminates how these paper tools and the archive in which they were stored shaped—and still shape—the kinds of knowledge that can be created from collected specimens.