Although collections and economic theory are intertwined, their relationship has only rarely been addressed explicitly. The aim of this research group, therefore, is to identify these relationships in workshops and academic conferences and make them visible in various formats.

About the theme

An essential characteristic of all collections lies in the fact that they are embedded in economic processes. Collection research cannot be conducted properly without analysing aspects of acquisition, growth, loss and circulation. Although these aspects are inherent in the collections, researchers have seldom addressed them specifically. This group aims to change that. The first task will be to develop a solid theoretical structure which can serve as the frame for our investigations. Economic terms – such as market, capital and value – provide broad semantic scope which must be restricted in order to make our case studies operational. The basic research conducted by our group will hopefully provide an important service to the scientific community.

In a second step, we plan to thematically focus on the protagonists and their collection practices. How are they embedded in a collection-based economy? What collection practices and resulting work processes can be described in economic terms? What market mechanisms exert influence on collections? How does the assignment of value and changes in value function? Of particular interest to us are the prerequisites for building a collection, e.g. the actual expenses for maintenance, logistics, storage and infrastructure.

Thirdly, as diverse as their perspectives, so too are the sources which form the basis for our investigations. Traces of economic activities can be found in invoices, correspondence on acquisitions, donation receipts, sales documents, testaments, inventories and catalogues. Consequently, a central focus of our work will be to propose methodical measures and develop new evaluative processes.

About the group

The research field of collection economy spans an entire range of issues, e.g. capital appreciation and depreciation, assignments of value, the circulation of objects, and concrete networks of trade. This diversity is reflected in the composition of our group, comprised of 18 researchers from various disciplines and contexts. We are happy to have representatives from the fields of literature and literary studies, ethnology and the history of knowledge as participants in our group. In preparation of our first workshop, scheduled to take place on 29 April, we have compiled a collection of texts which, on one hand, presents the current state of research, and on the other, highlights economic aspects in the “classics” of collection research. This collection can be expanded as desired and should serve the members as a shared bibliography. The primary aim is to establish a joint theoretical foundation, on which the group can develop its own research questions. Furthermore, it should be tailored to the specific needs of its members but also serve the interest to the greater research community.

The group thrives on the commitment of its members who meet twice a year in joint session. Smaller, theme-based workshops are also offered, but participation is voluntary. The purpose is to provide researchers the opportunity to present their work and to further develop their research themes. Finally, the group aims to explicitly collaborate on drafting joint applications for follow-up third-party funding.

Our plans

Due to the present circumstances, the group’s first meeting had to be postponed to autumn 2020. To shorten the wait, we have created a page in in the MWW → Virtual Research Room, containing various materials and a digital bibliography. Here, members can share information and engage in dialogue. In the future, the public will be able to find all the information about the group posted here on this page. By the end of 2020, we hope to define the main areas of investigation which will be further refined in individual workshops. One of our focuses will be on digital methods. How can we derive and model economic data from our sources? What kind of processing and evaluation methods are possible? What visualisations are imaginable? A two-week summer school is planned in 2022 to introduce junior researchers to the topic and incorporate their input into our deliberations.

How will the findings be communicated?

The research findings will be compiled into a handbook on collection economy and will hopefully be available as an open-access document within the MWW digital publication platform.


Gabriele Ball (Universität Göttingen)

Volker Bauer (HAB Wolfenbüttel)

Daniel Bellingradt (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Patrizia Carmassi (HAB Wolfenbüttel)

Elisabeth Engl (HAB Wolfenbüttel)

Gunilla Eschenbach (DLA Marbach)

Petra Feuerstein-Herz (HAB Wolfenbüttel)

Ulrike Gleixner (MWW Forschung / HAB Wolfenbüttel)

Hans Peter Hahn (Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main)

Dietrich Hakelberg (Forschungsbibliothek Gotha)

Elizabeth Harding (HAB Wolfenbüttel)

Christine Haug (LMU München)

Ina Heumann (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin)

Dominik Hünniger (Universität Hamburg)

Caren Reimann (MWW Forschung / HAB Wolfenbüttel)

Hole Rößler (HAB Wolfenbüttel)

Torsten Schaßan (HAB Wolfenbüttel)

Julia Schmidt-Funke (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Joëlle Weis (Universität Trier)