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Archives of the Living and the Dead – honoring Carolus Linnaeus

linnaeus_exhOSA Archivum opens on January 31, 2008, the first exhibition from its series Taxonomies, on the relationship between classification/taxonomy and the archives.

“I look at the geological record, as a history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect; of this history we posses the last volume alone, relating only to two or three countries. Of this volume, only here and there a short chapter has been preserved; and of each page, only here and there a few lines. Each word of the slowly-changing language, in which the history is supposed to be written, being more or less different in the interrupted succession of chapters, may represent the apparently abruptly changed forms of life, entombed in our consecutive, but widely separated formations. (Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species)

“In the remote pages of a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled 'Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge' it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.”
(The Analytical Language of John Wilkins by Jorge Luis Borges)

OSA Archivum, in collaboration with the Budapest Zoo, is organizing an exhibition on the relationship between classification/taxonomy and the archive. The show presents three layers of the archive and the corresponding system/logic of classification:

1. The first – three dimensional – part of the exhibition will present a collection of plants (and animals, mostly or exclusively birds) brought over from the Zoo. The Zoo has been consciously collecting plants from different parts of the world – we are interested mostly, but not exclusively in tropical plants – and helps private individuals, by providing space for those plants that have outgrown the private home. We consider the collection of the Zoo an archive, and will exhibit a randomly selected sub-set of that archive at OSA Archivum. The plants – a collection of physical objects – are organized in the Zoo, and will be organized at OSA into a collection, showing certain classification principles behind the arrangement. The exhibit will have the characteristic of an archive of physical objects – objects and their relation to each other in space. This first order of the exhibition will include proper archival materials as well – we intend to connect the exhibition space with the archival repository by the help of webcameras.

The living organism and the archival artifacts too will be properly designated: named (using the Linnean binomial system) and referenced (using archival references). The Linnean designation will lead to the next layer of the exhibition.

2. The second – two dimensional – order of the presentation will concentrate on Linnaeus' work (on the occasion of the tercentenary of his birth), his taxonomic system, and the nature, the logic and the problems of both the Linnaean taxonomy, and classification in general. This second order of the exhibit will present herbaria, type specimen, illustrations, engravings, photographs, and catalogs. Herbaria and type specimen will be presented both as physical objects, collections and also as containers of information on the physical objects exhibited in the first layer of the exhibition. Whenever possible, finding aids, card catalogs will refer to objects shown in the first part of the exhibition.

The second part of the show intends to be both concrete and abstract as well. The intention is to present objects related both the Linnaeus's life and work, (artifacts catalogs, herbaria, periodic tables from museum collections) but also to explain the problems connected to classification in general.

3. The third – virtual – part of the exhibit will deal with third order collections and classificatory systems: digital collections, digital catalogs, collaborative classification projects. The third part will deal with the new ways/logic of organizing collections, information, knowledge, taxonomic projects.

The aim is to show digital collections, like the Human Genome Project, or digital reworking of the Linnaean taxonomy such as the Global Taxonomy Initiative, The Barcode of Life Initiative, the Encyclopedia of Life, the Taxonomic Databases Working Group, and the Tree of Life Web Project.

This part of the show will reconnect the biological theme to the proper archival thematic. The third order will include new archival and library classification projects such as the Online Computer Library Center that manages the Dewey Decimal system; the; the aura (Advanced User Resource Annotation) Project; Thinglink; and not least the Institute of Record, a work in progress of OSA Archivum that aims at establishing a distributed collaborative digital historical archive.

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