Collectors, as individuals and as institutions, attempt to conserve evidence of cultural developments. Thus, the activity of collecting is more than the hunt for rare and precious items, and more than their discovery and subsequent maintenance. Collecting is also a process that can involve the selection of facts, the elision of the unknown or disturbing, and the shaping of a particular version of history.
Collections represent the past by displaying and explaining specific, tangible remains. Museum-goers (including specialized historians) imagine generalities of the settings that produced these works: who made it? in what type of setting? what happened when it was no longer needed?. Our curiosity does not diminish merely because relatively few of such basic questions find answers. Despite the efforts of collectors, curators of collections, and other scholars whose work explores material survivors of the past, the past remains irrevocably distant, in need of preservation, further research and fresh imaginations.
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