Opening on January 24, 2011, Tangible Things draws together 200 objects pulled from backrooms, basements, and z-closets of Harvard’s varied museums.

Tangible Things highlights and questions the modern Western intellectual categories that distinguish art from artifact, specimen from tool, and the historical from the anthropological in Harvard’s unparalleled museum and archival collections. The exhibition features nearly two hundred intriguing objects from across the University. Images are available upon request. Visitors begin in an orienting exhibition located in the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. There they are introduced to established ways of organizing tangible things and are challenged to classify a seemingly random assortment of objects according to these scholarly conventions. Where in the University do items like John Singer Sargent’s palette, the dress and beads of a Camp Fire Girl, a crystal ball, or a stuffed Bengal tiger belong? How about a century-old tortilla or the University’s President’s Chair? Where should they belong? Why? Armed with these questions visitors are invited to take part in a University-wide scavenger hunt to discover the many guest objects carefully inserted into the exhibitions of seven of Harvard’s public museums. As visitors fan out to discover these wandering items they will begin to realize that the meanings of things and the categories of knowledge and knowing based on those things are not as static or as natural as they may appear.

The intellectual underpinnings of the exhibition provides the basis for an innovative new course at the university, “Tangible Things: Harvard Collections in World History.” Thankfully, the exhibit also allows those of us not enrolled in the hallowed halls an opportunity to poke around some long hidden gems.

Tangible Things will be on view through May 29, 2011 at multiple locations on Harvard University campus.

A full listing of locations is available after the jump.

Harvard University campus locations:

Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Special Exhibitions
Gallery and Putnam Gallery, Science Center, 1 Oxford Street
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, 485 Broadway
Harvard Museum of Natural History, 28 Oxford Street
Houghton Library, Harvard Yard
Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 11 Divinity Avenue
Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, 10 Garden Street
Semitic Museum, 6 Divinity Avenue

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