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Collection Thinking - A free-to-attend conference

Jun. 12, 2018

The Richler Library Project presents:

“Collection Thinking”
A free-to-attend conference

12-14 June 2018, Concordia University, Montreal, QC, Canada

What is a collection? As a concept that signifies both an action (of gathering things together) and an entity (the things gathered), the collection raises important questions about how we create meaning through acts of selection, arrangement and description. The idea for this conference originates in a project that considers the literary historical and cultural significance of the author’s personal collection (of books, papers and ephemera) as a repository of materials with culturally-informed organizational structures. Using such a hybrid collection of books, archival materials, furniture and personal memorabilia as a conceptual starting point, we invite scholars, archivists and librarians of all disciplines to choose their own examples and case studies of collections that will help us think about the nature and meaning of collections within their broader social and cultural contexts of creation and use.

Collections of all kinds and scales are created, held, contained, preserved, stored, and consequently record the instantiation of something of value to an individual or a community. “Collection Thinking” has us ask, in the first instance, under whose terms has a collection been made and to what ends? Further, within our present context of networked digital media, collections have become as much associated with recirculation and consequent reinterpretation as with material location. As Gabriella Giannachi explains, “over the centuries, archives started to be considered not only as locations or objects but, as media, and communications strategies.” Archives and libraries that house collections in this iteration function less as places that determine a singular form of authorized value than as sites for the possible production of multiple and diverse systems of value. They become subject to what Hal Foster has called an “archival impulse” among artists “to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present” in ways that run counter to the original terms under which those archival records were initially housed, through acts of resituating, reordering and re-presenting.

From this perspective, the meaning of the collection may be discernible in the acts of structuring, arranging and cataloguing that give it shape. The record we produce to identify an object within a collection represents an event that transforms a fugitive thing into a piece of a larger, meaningful whole: a collection. The methods and records used to organize and describe collections, whether in established memory institutions or personal collecting activities, have their own histories and underscore the implication of descriptive and structuring methods and actors (the collectors) in the process of collection as a cultural phenomenon. In her discussion of unofficial collections or “rogue archives” created, usually online, by “amateurs, fans, hackers, pirates, and volunteers,” Abigail De Kosnik stresses the productive, eventful aspect of archival enactment and collection. This suggests that we can learn a lot about collection and cultural preservation by studying not just the materials collected and preserved, but the collection and preservation practices of the individuals committed to such work. In describing the practices that keep certain traces of events and people preserved in collections, and thus in play for use in the present, we may account for the repertoire of concepts and labour practices that produce and gird the meanings of the cultural/conceptual entity that motivated the collection in the first place.

Conference Programme

LB 322: Multifunctional Room
LB 361: Friends of the Library Room
LB 362: Seminar Room

DAY 1 – Tuesday, June 12, 2018

9:00am - 9:30am – Registration and Light Breakfast – LB 361

9:30am - 10:00am – Welcome Remarks – LB 361

  • Jason Camlot, “Collection Thinking”

10:00am - 11:00 am – Panel 1: COLLECTION AS KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION – LB 322

Chair: Andre Furlani (Concordia U, English)

  • Catherine Russell (Concordia U, Cinema), “Walter Benjamin’s Collector and the Compilation of Gesture in Archiveology”
  • Katherine McLeod (Concordia U, English), “Unquiet Archives: What Remains of Voices on the Radio”

11:00am - 12:00pm – Panel 2: COLLECTION NETWORKS – LB 322

Chair: Jacqueline J. Reid-Walsh (Penn State U, Education)

  • Valérie Bouchard (U Laval, Ethnology and Heritage Studies), “Collecting and Relating Stories: The Pierre and Annie Cantin Collection”
  • Nathalie Cooke (McGill U, English/Archives and Rare Collections), “Riddle Me This: When is a Cookbook not a Cookbook?”

12:00pm - 1:30pm – Lunch (off campus)


Chair: Meaghan Scanlon (Library and Archives Canada)

  • Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez (Penn State U, Education), “Creating, Collecting and Curating Barbie”
  • Jacqueline J. Reid-Walsh (Penn State U, Education), “A Living Microcosm of Historical Children’s Literature”
  • Colette Slagle (Penn State U, Education),  “Collecting Children in Coraline and Harry Potter”

3:00pm - 3:30pm – Nutritional Break – LB 361

3:30pm - 5:00pm – PLENARY LECTURE 1 – LB 322

  • Linda Morra (Bishop’s U, English), “‘Her Books Filed for Divorce’: Affect, Capital, and Sociopolitical Networks in the (Re)formation of Sheila Watson’s Library”

5:30pm - 7:00pm – Pub Dinner (off campus)

DAY 2 – Wednesday, June 13, 2018

9:00am - 9:15am – Light Breakfast – LB 362


Chair: Adrianna Link (American Philosophical Society)

  • David Gary (American Philosophical Society), “Aggressive Acquisition Strategies at the APS:  John Vaughan and George Ord”
  • Reed Gochberg (Harvard U, History), “Charles Wilson Peale’s Philadelphia Museum and the Cabinet of the APS”
  • Lindsay Van Tine (U Virginia, Centro de las Américas), “The Growth of Spanish Americana Collections at the APS”

10:45am - 11:00am – Coffee and Snack – LB 362


Chair: Kyle Roberts (Loyola University College, Public History and New Media)

  • Alex Custodio (Concordia U, English), “Collect Them (All) Again: Ownership, Ephemerality, and Monetization in Mobile Gacha Games”
  • Georgia Phillips-Amos (Concordia, Art History), “Collecting Copies: The Fabiola Project Initiated by Francis Alÿs”

12:00pm - 1:30pm – Lunch (off campus)

1:30pm - 3:00pm – Panel 6: INDIVIDUAL COLLECTION PRACTICES – LB 362

Chair: Annie Murray (U Calgary)

  • Geoffrey R. Little (Concordia U, Library and Archives), “Relics in the Magic Circle, or, Looking for Florence Nightingale in Florence Nightingale’s Childhood Library”
  • Jean-Christophe Cloutier (U Pennsylvania, English), “‘The Neatest Records You Ever Saw’: Jack Kerouac’s Collecting Practices”

3:00pm - 3:30pm – Nutritional Break – LB 362


Chair: Geoffrey R. Little (Concordia U, Library and Archives)

  • Kyle Roberts (Loyola University College, Public History and New Media), “Reconstructing a Lost Eighteenth-Century Collection Through Shelf Marks”
  • Meaghan Scanlon (Library and Archives Canada), “‘A Gift to the Nation Worth While’: The Collection of William Lyon Mackenzie King”
  • Joshua Hutchinson (UC Irvine, Libraries), “(In)cautious Stewardship of Library Collections: Creating Collections Where They Don’t Exist, Losing Collections Where They Do”

5:15pm - 7:00pm – Evening Event (Richler Library Reading) – LB 655

7:15pm - 8:30pm – Pub Dinner  (Off Campus)

DAY 3 – Thursday, June 14, 2018

9:00am - 9:30am – Light Breakfast – LB 361

9:30am - 10:30am – Panel 8: COLLECTION POETICS – LB 362

Chair: Katherine McLeod (Concordia U, English)

  • Darragh Languay (Concordia U, English), “‘Scarce Below the Roots of Vegetables’: The Hidden Museums of Sir Thomas Brown”
  • Darren Wershler (Concordia U, English), “The Residual Media Depot and the Variantology of Research Collections”

10:30am - 12:00pm – PLENARY LECTURE 2 – LB 362

  • Johan Kugelberg (Boo-Hooray, NYC), “Problems and Solutions in Counter-Culture Archiving and Publishing"

12:00pm - 1:30pm – Lunch (off campus)

1:30pm - 2:30pm – Panel 9: COLLECTION AND COMMUNITIES – LB 362

Chair: Martha Langford (Concordia U, Art History)

  • Steven High (Concordia U, History), Alexandra Mills (Concordia U, Library and Archives), Désirée Rochat (McGill U, Integrated Studies in Education), “Reanimating the Archive: Sharing Stories From the Negro Community Centre / Charles H. Este Cultural Centre Fonds”
  • Louis Rastelli (Archive Montreal), “The Crowdsourced Archive, or, Towards a Collection of Collections”

2:30pm - 3:00pm – Nutritional Break – LB 361

3:00pm - 4:00pm  – Panel 10: COLLECTION AND COMMUNITIES II– LB 362

Chair: Alex Custodio (Concordia U, English)

  • Hélène Brousseau & Jessica Hébert (Artexte), “Off the Grid: Exploring the Human Network in Underground Art Making and Collection Building”
  • Felicity Tayler (U Toronto, Art History), “Finding Fireweed: A Collection and Collecting Data”

4:00pm - 5:00pm – Wrap Up – LB 362