How the History of Curation Inspires the Present and the Future (Part II)


By Greg Heist, Chief Innovation Officer & Amy Perifanos, Senior Director, Insight Curation, Gongos, Inc.

“History is a relentless master. It has no present; only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” – John F. Kennedy

IfYouUseTheWebDespite it being a trendy topic these days, there is no clear definition of Curation. Though its application is most widely known to the art world, as a philosophy it has been evolving for two thousand years.  In this context, insight curation is a great illustration of “the past rushing into the future.”

As avid followers of social trends, the emergence of content curation as epitomized by Drudge Report, Reddit, Pinterest, and even Songza, hooked us.  Their explosive growth provides a clear signal that—whether people are conscious of it or not—there is an unmistakable power in Curation.

There is a reason why Curation resonates so strongly in the 21st century. Although there is not a singular meaning to the term, the themes of structuring, organizing, connecting and healing have been at its core.  Let us show you what we mean.

As our team sees it, the evolution of Curation breaks down into four periods

  1. The Curatore: Roman Times, physical structure
  2. The Curé: 14th-19th Century, spiritual structure
  3. The Art Curator: 20th century, artistic structure
  4. Content Curation: 21st century, infotainment structure

The Curatore:  Roman times, physical structure

Curation dates back to the Roman Empire.  Curatores, as they were called, were bureaucrats with the directive to build out the infrastructure of the Empire, including the famous Roman roads and aqueduct system. Their influence spread even more broadly to include the flow of currency and the procurement of commodities on behalf of the Empire.

The Curatore brought order and structure in a very physical sense.  It played an important role within the Roman Empire and became the very foundation of curation as we know it today.

The Curé: 14th-19th century, spiritual structure

Prezi_2013-07-29_17-36-32By the 14th century, curation added a more spiritual component.  A Curé was a priest entrusted with the “care of souls” through the practice of spiritual direction. This was an early precursor to modern-day psychotherapy.

One of the foremost examples was St. John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars.  St. John was drawn to the priesthood as a teenager, entering the seminary at the age of 14. He promptly flunked out…almost.

His superiors saw something extraordinary in him, and with their support St. John was ordained. Upwards of 20,000 people a year made a pilgrimage to the small French village of Ars seeking his guidance and enlightenment. The Curé d’Ars became an example of a Curator’s power to transform complexity into spiritual clarity.

Art Curation: 20th century, artistic structure 

In the 20th century, the idea of Curation morphed into its modern form – the contextual display of art in museums.  This clip from the end of the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, personifies its importance and the vastness of source material from which the curator begins their work.

The Curator’s role is to bring a select portion of this vast collection to life.  In order to do this, they must offer structure and context to select pieces in a gallery setting.  Their ultimate purpose is to ensure onlookers understand the significance of the art as it relates to the artists’ perspective, the time period, religious or governmental undertones, and cultural currents.

Content curation: 21st century, infotainment structure

There is white hot buzz around the consumer’s role in content curation, be it with music (Discovr music, Songza), imagery (Pinterest) or digital content (Pearltrees, Digg).  These platforms crowd-source content, allowing nearly anyone able to play the curator’s role. Therein lies the dichotomy.  Content curation has deviated from its historical roots—lacking the discipline and influence of a seasoned curator.

However, content curation draws its power—and hence its popularity—by being a convenient measure to bring order and clarity amid an era of data abundance.

We believe Curation stands ready to embrace its power in a form we’re calling Insight Curation.  Our next post will illustrate why now is the time for organizations to embrace this incarnation of an age-old practice…or risk of ‘being swept aside’ by its disruptive power.