This past weekend the Huntington hosted the Early Modern Collections in Use conference. The Huntington conferences are always delightful and productive and this was no exception. First, I suggest checking out the Huntington blog and the hashtag.
Most of the papers, unsurprisingly but still wonderfully, made explicit reference to items housed at the Huntington. Given the subject, non-textual sources were well represented. And, as often happens with these narrower well curated topics, each speaker was able to draw comparisons and connections with prior papers. So, not only was there an assortment of great papers, but throughout the two days there was active discussion. In effect, this became about the production of knowledge– much as many presenters mentioned as a goal of early modern visits to collections.
I was, of course, particularly interested in Dániel Margócsy’s “Stables as Collections for Breeding: The Production of Knowledge and the Reproduction of Horses.” My primary research topic currently is on understanding of inheritance in horses and livestock in the 18th and early 19th centuries, so this was a can’t miss. I was not the only equine historian in attendance– something that is becoming delightfully less uncommon– and even had a chance to compare research notes and chat about the state of our field with Kathryn Renton over coffee. As Mary Terrall mentioned after, horse history papers are still rare enough that we come from miles around at the hint of one. Margócsy also mentioned the strange omission of horses from current research.
Margócsy’s presentation focused in particular on the relationship between collections of art and collections of horses, which often occupied the same space. He also suggests that the “ephemerality” of horses changed the ways in with they were viewed and used as collections. Because horses were collected as living, rather than preserved, specimens, preservation needs were met though breeding and through art. I look forward to reading more of his work on the subject.
And, worth mentioning, the top tweet of the conference was these good dogs: