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Moral EntanglementsConserving Birds in Britain and Germany$
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Stefan Bargheer

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226376639

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226543963.001.0001

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Collector’s Items and Viable Means

Collector’s Items and Viable Means

(p.46) Chapter 2 Collector’s Items and Viable Means
Moral Entanglements

Stefan Bargheer

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 2 investigates the practices and institutions of work and play at a point in time when they made for the destruction and decline of birdlife. The focus is on the time from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. In Britain it was the logic of natural-history collecting in private and public museums that made for the valuation of birds. In a collection, objects are valued along the lines of diversity and rarity. The focus on rarity in particular contributed to the local extinction of species. Natural-history museums did exist in Germany as well, yet in this country many ornithologists had gained their knowledge about birds as bird catchers, not as natural-history collectors. Birds were a major ingredient in the country’s traditional diet and had a status as consumer goods rather than as collector’s items. The logic of valuation entailed in this institutional arrangement put emphasis on the abundance of usefulness bird species, rather than diversity and rarity. The destruction of species considered harmful to agriculture was explicitly encouraged. The emerging concern for conservation that developed throughout the nineteenth century was part and parcel of these two forms of valuation.

Keywords:   natural history museums, collecting, bird catching, economic ornithology

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