Collecting The Monstrous
Collecting the Monstrous
MEARCSTAPA (Monsters: the Experimental Association for the Research of Cryptozoology through Scholarly Theory and Practical Application)
Panel for the 2017 MAP (Medieval Association of the Pacific) Conference at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA
Medieval and early modern history, art, and literature often depict collections of strange, uncanny, or monstrous things. Bestiaries sometimes depict exotic animals or monstrous, composite creatures; those in the relic trade (such as Chaucer’s Pardoner) boasted collections of relics and other “miraculous” items, some of which were gruesome. Monastic houses and churches guarded proudly their (supposedly authentic) relics and other collections of ephemera, and developed sensational and shocking stories about these objects. Witch hunters and Inquisitors of the early modern period sometimes kept macabre souvenirs of those they interrogated, such as purported pacts with the devil, witch bottles, and other types of physical “evidence” of hexes or spells. Such collections both contributed to and inhibited the development of early modern antiquarianism in the period 1500-1700.
What is the belief system or thought process behind the accumulation of objects that are “othered” by an association with the uncanny or monstrous? What spiritual or psychological effects were they meant to have on their collectors and their beholders? The issue of authenticity is problematic, as strange beasts in bestiaries, relics for sale, confiscated satanic accoutrements and objects at the center of a church’s strange story were usually not genuine. What relationship did medieval and early modern collectors of objects have with the concept of authenticity when it came to the collection of objects considered to be uncanny or macabre? How do their attitudes about authenticity affect those of the 21st century scholar of medieval and early modern studies? What are the challenges of communicating the accumulation of uncanny or monstrous collections of objects to students? Moreover, what are modern scholars to do with such objects when they turn up in museums, churches, or universities? The precursors to our modern museums were early modern cabinets of curiosity, filled with strange and wondrous curios from throughout the world. How do these origins linger in present institutions? MEARCSTAPA seeks papers that examine the collecting of items that are considered uncanny, preternatural, or monstrous in medieval or early modern history, art, or literature in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, or Asia.