About the Curator: Sean Silver

I teach courses in literature and museum studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  Before joining the academy, I was what they call a "joiner," a maker of cabinets and other furniture.  These two loves meet in this museum.


I'm a scholar of the long eighteenth century (ca. 1650-1800), in Britain and Europe, with interests in material culture, the history of science, cognition, and craft practices.  My CV.



Before Complexity: The Cultural History of a Modern Concept (manuscript in progress). This book traces the prehistory of six concepts important to the information age (information, contingency, complexity, emergence, accident, invention) as they underwent critical transformations in the literature and arts of the long eighteenth century.  We are living the legacy of decisions and insights made more than three centuries in the past.

Crafts of Enlightenment, workshop in progress.  We tend to think of the Enlightenment as the age of the triumph of Reason.  But historical forms of rational thought were developed through specific craft practices.  My ongoing effort is to recover the habits and practices of the architects of abstraction, including John Locke, Robert Hooke, and Joseph Addison.



At Michigan, I regularly teach courses on eighteenth-century literature, material culture, and the history of museums.  

A course entitled "The Novel and the Museum" was recently awarded the ASECS Innovative Course Prize.  As part of this class, students build a museum of literary objects.  The catalogue of this museum, featuring students' writing, is published at the University of Michigan Espresso Book Machine.  

I have recently launched a course called "Reading with Your Laptop," training students to program in R, and introducing them to half-a-dozen innovative techniques they can employ in the R environment.  Students work in research teams, authoring reports based on collaborative research.  What would literary-critical work look like if it was done in the sciences?  I am aiming to find out.

Hendrick Dankaerts, "Royal Gardener John Rose Presenting a Pineapple to King Charles II" (Wikimedia Commons); Bertie Greatheed, "Alfonso Appeared in the Center of the Ruins," (courtesy Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University); Horace Walpole's marginal mark in e arme overo... di Venitia (Venice, 1578), the first serendipitous moment so-called (courtesy Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University).