Choosing exhibits for Shelley’s Ghost

Stephen Hebron, Exhibition Curator

Curating an exhibition is, like writing, a proces of looking things over and leaving things out. There are many 100s of items in the Shelley collections at the Bodleian alone, from notebooks, journals and letters to portraits and personal relics; Shelley’s Ghost contains just 117 exhibits in total and includes 12 on loan from The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, New York Public Library. Often what seems particularly fine early on gets rejected later on as the seemingly endless lists of possible exhibits gets steadily whittled down. You have to be ruthless. Does the object help with the story that the exhibition is telling? Is it interesting to look at? More prosaically, but just as importantly, will it fit? But, going back to the writing analogy, if rejected words get struck out, rejected exhibits are not, of course, disposed of – they remain on the shelves, ready to be consulted by researchers and, maybe, displayed in future exhibitions.