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Reconceiving the Warburg Library as a Working Museum of the Mind

Reconceiving the Warburg Library as a Working Museum of the Mind

Chapter:
(p.71) 4 Reconceiving the Warburg Library as a Working Museum of the Mind
Source:
Ribbon of Darkness
Author(s):
Barbara Maria Stafford
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226630656.003.0005

In line with Aby Warburg’s conviction that the past should engage the present by expanding and refreshing it, the Warburg Institute Library’s rare and singular collections are both about the books and the shaping of the scholarly mind behind the ordering of its contents. Received opinion, however, held that it was more efficient to dissolve its unique holdings into the overarching library system of the University of London. This essay argues first that we should not be automatically persuaded by the unexamined rhetoric of efficiency. Second, while the unique presentation of the Library requires and, happily, has now retained its own premises, it needs to be reconceived in order to operate in the twenty-first century. What makes the Library vital to today’s networked epistemology is the insights it provides to the varieties of human ordering, organization, formatting, categorization —tellingly exhibited in the spatial arrangement of its holdings. In its refreshingly individualistic collections, it resembles another London scholarly institution, assembled by a brilliant architect and collector of artifacts, books, and drawings. Sir John Soane’s house museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, I propose, provides a workable model for an analogously useful and apposite museum of the mind.

Keywords:   Aby Warburg, Architecture, Collections, Efficiency, House Museum, Museum of the Mind, Order, Organization, Categorization, Sir John Soane

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