Cabinets of Curiosities in Academic and Research Libraries: Collections and Sensibilities

presentation by Will Baker
Saturday September 7th 5:00pm
Full Seminar Schedule


 This talk explores current scholarly interest in exhibiting and collecting cabinets of curiosity literature as a response anxieties about the digital information revolution. From roughly the 16th through the 19th centuries, a number of affluent eccentrics in Europe and America amassed extensive collections of anomalies in natural science and other cultural oddities. Their "cabinets of curiosity" were then documented and promoted through the publishing of lavishly-illustrated catalogues; and it is from these types of alluring antiquarian books that current academic and research institutions have been able to re-invent the physical library as a relevant social space not replicable in the digital world.  Will Baker's talk both defines what this strange literary sub-genre consists of and how this material has been recently collected and exhibited at an institutional level.


Will Baker is a bookseller, appraiser, and collections management consultant for W. C. Baker Rare Books & Ephemera, ABBA/ILAB. He received his first Master’s degree in Museum Studies from New York University, where he focused on the early development of natural history museums and 19th-century American dime museums. During that period, he worked as a researcher in the Anthropology division of the American Museum of Natural History, and as a curatorial assistant at the sword swallower Johnny Fox’s Lower East Side dime museum the Freakatorium. He later worked as a rare book cataloger for the William Reese Company and as the librarian and executive director of New Haven’s Institute Library. In recent years Baker has performed extensive consulting work for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and has helped research and catalog Florence Fearrington’s landmark collection of rare books relating to cabinets of curiosities.