Back to Top

A Cabinet of Curiosities Workshop in an Archaeology Class

When we collect things, we tell a story. What story do our collections tell and how do they apply to the wider community? 

Students in Introduction to Anthropology (ANT-123) got to answer that question during a cabinet of curiosities workshop created by Visual Arts Program Navigator Laura Pasquini to engage students in a contemporary and personal interpretation of them inspired by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Amy Carattini’s classroom instruction. 

Curiosity cabinets are strange collections of natural objects, art or bizarre artifacts that illustrate a collector’s rare knowledge, prestige or power. They can also be considered museums for our imagination, containing the objects and stories that demonstrate our curiosity for collecting. 

Throughout the course, Carattini taught students about curiosity cabinets as a way to think about the archaeological endeavor. Students discussed how archaeologists collect, analyze and interpret artifacts and, in so doing, create narratives about the past. 

Carattini prepared students for the workshop by asking them to bring in objects and memorabilia from home for their own miniature cabinet. Pasquini guided students to investigate relevant works of art as they selected a wooden cigar box as their "cabinet" and built their display with a selection of materials, including glass vials, natural relics such as dried flowers, marbles, maps, poetry and vintage national geographic magazines.  

A practice once reserved for the most elite and wealthy members of society, students were empowered as "collectors" to celebrate their narrative and storytelling through these boxes. 

After the success of the workshop, Pasquini and Carattini took students on a trip to experience an actual curiosity cabinet at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, which is home to a permanent curiosity cabinet installation. 

For their final project, students created a virtual cabinet that demonstrated how the discipline of archaeology produces and circulates knowledge about culture. Students chose artifacts they thought reflected the ways archaeology is conceived and produced. Each student was also asked to explain the objects they chose and the reasons for their selection in a PowerPoint essay.  

To learn more, read about the course in the Division of Learning newsletter