Curating a Gentleman's Library: Practices of Acquisition, Display and Disposal in the Cottonian Collection, 1791-1816
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This thesis examines the book and archival holdings of the Cottonian Collection – a national designated eighteenth-century collection of fine art and books – between 1791 and 1816, the period of William Cotton II’s custodianship. Prior to this thesis, the Cottonian Collection has not been the subject of a full-length academic study. Whilst the art holdings have received some attention, the book and archival contents have not been examined. This thesis addresses this imbalance by conducting a thorough examination of the archival holdings and the history of the book collection. Taking the actions of the collection’s penultimate private owner, William Cotton II, as its primary focus this thesis examines the curatorial practices of acquisition, preservation and disposal through three key lenses: the presentation of the collection as a symbol of gentlemanly status, the evolution of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism thought, and the rise of Anglican Evangelicalism during this period. In doing so, this thesis considers the effects of the broader societal, political and religion changes on a national designated collection during a period defined by ideological threat and revolutionary warfare. In the process, it seeks to embed the history of the Cottonian Collection within the broader context of late-eighteenth-century book collecting practices.