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A cabinet of feathers

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working my way through a HarvardX course titled “Tangible Things.” The course focuses on material culture–“stuff,” in a word–and it’s given me ample opportunity to reflect on the histories inherent in even the most mundane objects of everyday life.

My most recent assignment involved putting together a “museum in a box,” a curated collection of artifacts based around a central cultural, economic, or environmental theme. Historically, physical artifacts played an integral role in education, and miniature collections containing items from around the globe would have a place in the classroom as teaching aids. I thought that feathers and the birds they come from would fit the bill quite nicely, given their far-reaching presence in both our collective human conscience and the natural world.

My virtual “cabinet” covers a number of themes, spanning ancient fossils, beauty, and the relationship between humans and birds. There are six distinct titled sections, almost like individual drawers if you will: Natural Beauty, Ancient Artifacts, Art and Culture, On the Brink, Ornithology/Plumology, and Anthropogenic Impacts. I loved the end result–while it’s only an informal overview of the subject, it offers a visual representation of almost everything that I find fascinating about the avian world. You can find the complete collection here on Pinterest.

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