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Teaching with Primary Sources - Create Your Own Cabinet of Curiosity

This guide includes details to complete a remote learning exercises in materiality and help gain a sense of the physical nature of objects.

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Rachel Ingold
History of Medicine Collections
Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library


For centuries, Cabinets of Curiosities, or Wunderkammer, have offered glimpses of collected items from the natural world. Animals, plants, and minerals were displayed along with other objects reflecting a history that included colonization and misappropriation. 

Printed books from the seventeenth century to the present include vivid illustrations of such displays. You can view examples here. This assignment invites you to begin your own Wunderkammer. Start by selecting one item and follow the activity. 

Learning Objectives

  • Introduce students to exercise of materiality (see our Teaching Materiality Online for more details)
  • Actively engage students to critically examine classification and limitations of historical works, as well as libraries and archives

Engraving by Clemens Kohl, 19th century