The tercentenary of the Ashmolean Museum in 1983 provided the context for a week-long symposium held in Oxford on the subject of 'The Cabinet of Curiosities'. The following chapters reproduce the substance of the papers delivered on that occasion, although contributors were encouraged both to condense their texts and to amend them as appropriate in the light of the fruitful discussion sessions which followed the formal presentations.
In drawing up the programme for the symposium, the organizers (the present editors) sought to provide a coverage of the subject which was as comprehensive as possible within the limits of the time available. Papers delivered on the first three days (chapters 1-20 in this publication) dealt with individual collections or with series of collections, demonstrating the various forms adopted by the cabinet of curiosities in the light of personal taste, academic purpose or regional location. Contributions on the fourth day of the symposium (chapters 21-6) adopted a different viewpoint, examining various categories of material which were common to the majority of curiosity collections, while on the fifth day (chapters 27-33) the sources of exotic material in these early European collections were analysed according to their geographical derivation. By changing viewpoint in this way, it was sought to bring novel and useful perspectives to the study of these earliest museums and to present new insights into what was collected, whence it came and what its significance was perceived to be by those who collected.
Inevitably, there remain many aspects of the cabinet of curiosities to be explored. Interest in holding further symposia ran high at Oxford. The editors offer their gratitude to speakers and participators alike who brought success to the Ashmolean Tercentenary Symposium and dedicate this volume to those who may in the future carry forward the study of the origins of museums.