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Abstract

Since even before Frohmann (2009) proposed his document analysis on the meaning of cabinets of curiosity, I have been fascinated with them. Their emergence in the 15th century (MacGregor, 2007) is also the tantalizing beginnings of the birth of the modern museum. In museum studies, we often ask what the meaning of the museum is today (Latham & Simmons, 2014); I believe that part of the answer to this question is in these curious compartmentalized pieces of furniture that held the wonders of the world and helped users make meaning a very long time ago.

One can see examples of these cabinets scattered across the world and in various kinds of museums, but there are very few that exist today that also hold their original contents—those collected wonders chosen by the cabinets’ owners and/or creators. The Augsburg Cabinet in the Gustavianum, Uppsala, Sweden is one of those rarities. Finished in 1632, the cabinet exists, in all its glory, but so do about 1000 pieces that were contained in its original collection (Josefsson, 2014).

When I first saw this cabinet, in 2016, in its current configuration on exhibit, it was an encounter filled with profound excitement and joy. Since then, I have been keen on working with it, analyzing it as a document. Taking an auto-hermeneutic approach (Gorichanaz, 2017), in March 2018, I recorded my in-the-moment experiences of the cabinet in three contexts: in the gallery, on a tour, and through a digital mediator. I then reflected on the three experiences of this single document through the themes that developed in my prior research (Latham, 2015) around experiencing “the real thing” in the museum, self, relation, presence, and surround and analyzed the transcripts using phenomenological methodologies. This paper outlines the exploratory process of data collection and analysis of my in-the-moment encounters with this document.

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