Monday, September 25, 2006

Tagging and the Natural History of Art

While going over a couple of readings on the current project to make museum catalogues more searchable by generating non-expert keywords, I was reminded of a book by John Pickstone (Manchester) called "Ways of Knowing".

The book is essentially a history of Science, Technology and Medicine from the Renaissance to the present. Pickstone addresses the limits of local history (local referring to a particular time, place and theme), by experimenting with a novel historiographic approach. This approach is intended to outline the larger features of the history of science, technology and medicine (STM) without limiting his narrative to only one tradition.

So what does WoK have to do with Museum tagging? Pickstone distinguishes between 3 types, or ways of knowing in the history of STM: natural history, analysis, and experimentalism. He includes the way of “technoscinece” to analyze relations between science, technology, industry and policy.

What struck me as very interesting was the similarity between tagging and the tradition of "natural history". Pickstone describes natural history as the tradition which “covers all the things that can be named and collected”, and all forms of “collecting, describing and displaying". Basically, taking a natural history of a thing involves the naming and describing of it. Essentially, one has to "create" a place in their world-system by naming a thing. Although natural hsitory was most prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries in the history of STM, Pickstone suggets that natural history as a way of knowing can be seen in the world wide web: a place where things are categorized by their names, not by an hierarchical categorization.

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