China Seminar | 9 October 2003

Does Collecting Have a History?

Shana J. Brown Shana J. Brown

In the popular imagination, the collection of art objects is often viewed as an essentially private, leisure activity. However, recent historical studies have shown that private collection has had important cultural and social effects, leading to new forms of scientific knowledge, patterns of social engagement, and even varieties of personal identity. This is especially true for China, where the tradition of private collection has a long and distinguished history. In the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries, Chinese collecting of art and other objects contributed to significant new forms of visual representation, scholarly research, and economic development. Collecting does have a history, and in China this history is particularly rich and important.

Dr. Shana Brown is Assistant Professor of Modern Chinese History at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. She has received a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship and is a past fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Her most recent publication, “Object(ive) Measurement in Late-Qing Antiquarian Practice,” explores the use of historical measurements by Chinese collectors of ancient artifacts. She has worked, traveled, and studied in Greater China for four years, including extended stays in Beijing, Xi’an, and Taipei, where she worked as a staff translator for the Department of Antiquities at the National Palace Museum.