Inclusive Object Toolkit - SANDBOX

Traditionally museums classify works of art according to certain aspects and traits. For instance objects may be grouped by medium (painting, drawing, sculpture etc.), style, genre (iportrait, narrative, landscape, still life etc.), production site, maker, time period. These schema grew out of eighteenth-century efforts to organize the world according to what they saw as rational principles. In 1942 Jorge Luis Borges wrote an essay that pointed out the arbitrariness of classification. The key passage reads:

The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge.....[:] animals can be divided into (a) those belonging to the Emperor, (b) those that are embalmed, (c) those that are tame, (d) pigs, (e) sirens, (f) imaginary animals, (g) wild dogs, (h) those included in this classification, (i) those that are crazy-acting (j), those that are uncountable (k) those painted with the finest brush made of camel hair, (l) miscellaneous, (m) those which have just broken a vase, and (n) those which, from a distance, look like flies. 

Jorge Luis Borges, "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins," 1942; repr. and transl. from the Spanish by Ruth L. C. Simms in Other inquisitions 1937-1952 (University of Texas Press, 1964), p. 

Borges describes a fictive Chinese encyclopedia to make the point that any attempt to categorize the world is arbitrary and culturally specific. The passage famously inspired Michel Foucault in his 1966 book: Les mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines (in English: The Order of Things).


Gordon, A.D. Classification. 2nd ed. Boca Raton: Chapman and Hall/CRC, 1999.

Smith, M. “Viewer Tagging in Art Museums: Comparisons to Concepts and Vocabularies of Art Museum Visitors.” In Advances in Classification Research, 17 (2006): .

Srinivasan, R. et al. “Diverse Knowledges and Contact Zones within the Digital Museum” Science, Technology and Human Values 35(5) (2010): 735-768.

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