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The Stobaeus Project

Beyond curiosity and wonder—understanding the Museum Stobaeanum
Museum Stobæanum was the first public museum in Lund. Established in the early 18th century, it has its roots in the cabinet of curiosities of Kilian Stobaeus (1690–1742), professor in natural philosophy and history at Lund University. In 1735, Stobaeus donated his collections to Lund University. The earliest preserved inventories from 1753 and 1759 indicate that the museum included a large number of natural history objects as well as ethnographic, culture historical and archeological artefacts gathered by the scholar throughout his life and donated by other benefactors. Today, some of these collections are kept at the following Lund University institutions: Historical Museum, Biological Museum, University Library and Department of Geology.
Explore the collections of Museum Stobæanum!

Aims and research questions

This collaborative project is the first comprehensive study of the Museum Stobaeanum, Killian Stobaeus’ (1690–1742) extensive collection of ethnographic, archeological and natural history objects gathered by the scholar throughout his life and donated to Lund University in 1735, as well as the artefacts added to the collection in the following centuries.  The collection consists of several hundred ethnographic and natural history objects from Asia, the Pacific, North America, Greenland and Africa – most of them collected in the 18th and early 19th century in the tradition of Cabinets of Curiosities.

The Museum Stobaeanum, which forms the basis of Lund University Historical Museum (LUHM), offers an excellent lens for understanding Sweden’s global networks and the changing ideas about how to represent the “total world” in a museum. Despite its richness, the collection is poorly researched and little known in Sweden and abroad. The lack of historical information means that currently it is difficult for the public to navigate the exhibit and to understand its content and context. The project aims to overcome these issues. Its outcome will be a full overview of the collection, its history and its socio-cultural settings which will allow for a better understanding of our own historical mediation process.

The aim of the project is threefold: 1) to identify and document the collection, which is currently dispersed between different institutions; 2) to generate much needed historical knowledge about the provenance of the objects and socio-cultural conditions of their acquisition; 3) to open the collection to a wider public and further research.

The research will scrutinize these questions within three research programs:

1. Kilian Stobaeus as a collector

The research focuses on collecting practices of Stobaeus and the birth of the museum set in the context of 18th c. culture and Western perception of the world. It addresses the questions of what objects interested Stobaeus and why?; what were the cultural and affective criteria in acquiring and displaying the objects?; what role did emotions such as ‘curiosity’, ‘wonder’ but also cultural ‘condemnation’ play in the acquisition of these objects?; what were his networks for obtaining objects?; and, to what degree did his collecting reflect contemporary fashions and ways of ’knowing’, perceiving and representing the world? The program addresses also an important gender gap in current scholarship by investigating the role of Florentina Stobaeus, Kilian’s wife, in the furnishing of the Museum Stobaeanum, as well as the gendered nature of collected objects.

Research builds upon analyses of archival material at the Lund University Library (LUB), which has a vast collection of letters, documents and published works by Stobaeus and his wife. The historical contextualization of Stobaeus’ networks will produce a new perspective on the gendered and affective nature of patronage maintained through collecting.  

Program members: Karsten, Naum, Van Gent, Manhag, Håkanson, Johansson Dahre, Östlund, Ahlberg, Eriksson, Arup, Mostadius, Sjoberg, Tarnow Ingvardsson

Leaders: Naum and Van Gent

2.  The history of the collection after Stobaeus’ death

This research investigates the objects that were procured by the museum after Stobaeus’ death (1742) until the late 19th century. To date we know little about the socio-historical circumstances of these acquisitions and many objects have not been identified. We will examine the source and obtaining of these objects in relation to Swedish colonial, scientific  and mercantile interests and ask: what were the social links between the university/museum and the members of the Swedish East India Company (most notably Colin Campbell, whose correspondence is held at LUB), Swedish diplomats, and Linnaeus’ students?; what objects were acquired, how and why?; what role did these artefacts play in objectifying societies they originated from?; and, how did they reflect colonial, gendered and increasing racial hierarchies? This program will build upon analyses of archival material at LUB and LUHM.

Program members: Manhag, Karsten, Johansson Dahre, Van Gent, Östlund, Håkanson

Leaders: Van Gent and Östlund

3. The new Museum Stobaenum and ethnographic exhibition at LUHM

This research investigates the challenges of modern-day exhibitions of cabinets of curiosities like the Museum Stobaeanum and the representation of colonial collections in the new ethnographic exhibition at LUHM. It discusses the reasoning behind the selection of objects included in the exhibition, the strategies behind designing the displays, including engineering of emotional responses of wonder and curiosity of the viewer. The research addresses important questions about the historical contextualization of colonial collections and how to make the different acquisition processes visible and understandable to audiences.

It draws on methodologies developed by new museology, which promotes digitalized access as well as interactive experiences for audiences. The research is inspired by a number of successful initiatives in other Swedish museums (such as the collaboration of Skokloster with the Vasa Museum in 2015 on early modern global collections) and other initiatives such as the hugely successful ‘The History of the World in 100 Objects’ of the British Museum.

Program members: Manhag, Johanson Dahre, Naum, Van Gent, Karsten

Leaders: Karsten and Johannson Dahre

Methods and theories

The overarching theoretical framework is that of a historical and social contextualization of objects and collecting practices. Our methodological starting point is the theory of “social life of objects” (Appadurai 1986) stressing the fluidity of objects’ meanings as they change hands and enter different socio-cultural contexts (Thomas 1991; Naum and Nordin 2013; Van Gent 2016) as well as a biographical approach to object histories (Kopytoff 1986; Gosden&Marshall 1999; Alberti 2005; Hill 2014). These theoretical frameworks allow an understanding of the diverse lifeways and change of meanings of artefacts: from the moment of their creation, through their uses and subsequent ownerships, including the networks that brought them to the Museum, to the final singularization as museum pieces. They help to address questions of how to represent these early ethnographic objects and their histories to a contemporary audience (Johansson Dahre 2015). Our project adds to these theories two under-researched perspectives on the emotional and gendered character of collecting. This will be achieved by a) employing theories of the history of emotions and applying them to the collecting activities and patronage networks (Van Gent 2016), and b) paying close attention to the gendered and affective relations established through collecting process and the gendered nature of representation in the Museum Stobaeanum collection.

Project’s relevance

The project responds to the museum’s need to identify and research the collection and make it more accessible. It is of outstanding relevance to LUHM which plans to reconstruct the original Museum Stobaeanum and remodel the ethnographic hall. These exhibits will provide new intellectual and emotional experiences for the audience, and our research will supply a much needed study of the content and historical context of the collection.  Under current funding, staff at the museum does not have the time to undertake such a time-intensive interdisciplinary research on their own. We will also create a new webpage dedicated to the collections. After the project’s completion in 2019 the webpage will be maintained and continually expanded by LUHM, funded from its budget.

Dissemination of results, impact and internationalization

The hallmark of the project is a webpage containing research results and a catalog of the collection (photographs, object descriptions, biographies of selected objects). This will make the collection accessible to larger public, attract the public to visit museum and promote further research. Three thematic workshops with participation of experts will allow presenting our research, discuss and publicize the collection. Speakers include researchers from the British Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum, Rijksmuseum,World Culture Museums in Stockholm, National Museum of Denmark and Schloss Friedenstein Gotha. Each workshop will also host a public lecture to disseminate the research ideas to a general audience. The links established through the workshops will generate new research after 2019. Finally, the research will be published as a book offering a holistic interpretation of the collection. These activities will contribute to a long-lasting impact of the project.

Project plan

2017: Research on programs 1-3; workshop: “Stobaeus’ cabinet of curiosity: Emotions, “curiosa” and collecting in 18th century Sweden and beyond” sponsored by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions; designing the webpage;  photo-documentation of the collection; digitalization of Stobaeus’ documents (LUB).

2018: research on programs 1-3; workshop “Changing global networks and the expansion of the Stobaeus’ collection”; uploading findings on website.

2019: research on programs 1-3; workshop “Exhibiting curiosity cabinets today: the legacy of early modern global collections and contemporary audience expectations”; uploading research results on website, design of educational material; producing book manuscript.

Research Team

The project is a collaboration between LUHM, LUB and various departments of the university. The team members represent the fields of history, archaeology, Latin language studies, anthropology, museology, geology, botany and zoology. This combined expertise is necessary to tackle the diverse material and questions posed in the project. This large team will be organized in three program-teams with designated program leaders. Each program team will hold regular meetings. Program leaders are responsible for organizing these meetings and annual workshops, and for overseeing a timely production of the project outcomes.

Per Karsten, archaeologist and LUHM’s director. He has vast expertise in museology and archaeology and extensive knowledge of the collection. He will act as both researcher and facilitator for the project team. Employed for 6 months.

Magdalena Naum, historical archaeologists affiliated with LU interested in cross-cultural encounters and the role of material culture in these meetings with expertise in colonial America and Lapland. She will research biographies of North American and Sami objects and study the issues of representing the world in the Museum and the emotional aspects of collecting. Employed for 9 months.

Jacqueline Van Gent, historian at the University of Western Australia, specializing in gender history, the history of emotions and history of ethnographic collecting in Australia.  Chief Investigator at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (1100-1800). Van Gent will research the gendered nature of collecting networks such as the SOIC (especially Colin Campbell) and the object biographies of Australian artefacts. With M Naum she will explore the role of emotions in these collecting networks and in contemporary exhibition practices. Employed for 9 months.

Ulf Johansson Dahre, social anthropologist at LU and former head of the Ethnographic Collection at the National Museum of Denmark, specializing in ethnographic museum studies and the cultures of the Pacific. Dahre will research the epistemological underpinnings of the re-emergence of the cabinet of curiosities and the Pacific artifacts in the collection. Employed for 9 months.

Andreas Manhag, antiquarian at LUHM specializing in clerical and cultural history. He has extensive knowledge of the collection and will work with reconstructing the original content of the museum and chronologies and histories of subsequent acquisitions through archival research. Employed for 4 months.

Håkan Håkansson, historian of sciences at LU and head of the manuscripts and special collections department at LUB. His research focuses on early modern intellectual history. He will focus on Kilian and Florentina Stobaeus' networks, making use of the correspondence and archival records at LUB and other libraries to investigate how the creation of the Museum was dependent on both personal contacts and contemporary world view. Employed for 6 months.

Joachim Östlund, historian at LU. He works with early modern Swedish trade networks, scientific expeditions, and cross-cultural encounters with particular expertise in the Ottoman Empire. He will research the biographies of Ottoman/Turkish or “Oriental” objects in the collection, contexts and networks of their acquisition. Employed for 6 months.  

Per Ahlberg, historical geologist and paleontologist at LU, with wide expertise in fossil collections, cataloguing and curation of fossils from various parts of the world. He will research Stobaeus’ collections of minerals and fossils together with M Eriksson. Employed for 3 months. 

Mats Eriksson, paleontologist at LU with interest in the history and development of paleontology and the birth of geological museums, in which Stobaeus was a contributing force. Eriksson is head curator for the type collection at the Department of Geology and will, alongside Ahlberg, research identity of the fossils in Stobaeus’ collection. Employed for 3 months.

Ulf Arup, botanist at the Biological Museum in Lund leading the Botanical section. His expertise includes identifying botanical material and will study plants and related material. Since this material is rather limited in the Stobaeus’ collection Ulf's contribution will be 6 weeks.

Maria Mostadius, curator of Zoological Collection at Biological Museum in Lund. She has a background in history and archival studies and experience in object research. She will do research the zoological objects in Stobaeus’ collection. Employed for 3 months.

Cajsa Sjoberg, latinist at LU.

Gitte Tarnow Ingvardsson, archaeologist and curator of the Coin Cabinet at LUHM. She will investigate Stobaeus’ collection of 606 coins and medals, their origins and displaying practices. Employed for 5 months.



Kilian Stobaeus

Portrait of Kilian Stobaeus.
The collections of Kilian Stobaeus formed the origins of the Historical Museum of Lund University.

The Cabinet of Curiosities was donated to the University in 1735 by the physician, scientist and Vice Chancellor Kilian Stobaeus. The donation formed the foundation for several University departments and museums, and the collection grew intensively over the next century. The Stobaeus Project aims to shed light on his life and achievements.

Historiska museet
Lunds universitet
Krafts torg 1
Box 188, 221 00 LUND
Telefon: +46 46-222 79 44
E-post: reception [at] luhm [dot] lu [dot] se

Med bidrag från Region Skåne.