Tuesday, November 26th, 2019 Faith in Formaldehyde: Conversion in the Oldest Cabinet of Curiosity in the Philippines

Tuesday, November 26, 20193:00PM - 5:00PM208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place


This paper examines the oldest existing museum in the Philippines, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Museum of Arts and Sciences, as a cabinet of curiosity and a catalyst of conversion. By Spanish royal decree, its early collection acquired through colonial expeditions, complex evangelical networks, and commercial expositions formed the classroom materials for the Natural History course taught by Dominican friars. By 1877, the fauna, flora, and mineral—from the minute to the monumental, from the ordinary to the odd—were inventoried in a three-volume catalogue raisonné. Its collection has since elicited a sense of wonder in nature’s perfection and diversity. Within the broader philosophical contexts of natural and revealed theology and the revival of Thomism after Charles Darwin’s publication of his theory of evolution through natural selection, the museum’s pursuit of scientific knowledge masked its pursuit of sacred truth, engendering an epiphany through the embalmed and serving the divine through the drama of its dioramas. Operating as a mode of signification and translation of the Word, the museum became a biblical exegesis of the origin of species to archive God, preserving faith in formaldehyde as a means of maintaining the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines.

Pearlie Rose S. Baluyut received her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles. A two-time Fulbright U.S. Scholar (Student/Faculty Grant), a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellow, and a Faculty Learning Community Participant through the NEH Humanities Initiative Grant, she is the co-editor of Confrontations, Crossings, and Convergence: Photographs of the Philippines and the United States, 1898-1998 (1998) and author of Institutions and Icons of Patronage: Arts and Culture in the Philippines during the Marcos Years, 1965-1986 (2012). Besides teaching art history and museum studies at several institutions in the United States, France, and the Philippines, she also served as Advisor for the Arts at the National Museum of the Philippines before her appointment as Project Manager/Curator of the Philippines at the Venice Biennale by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Currently, Baluyut is Assistant Professor of Art History in the Art Department and Affiliate Faculty in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Oneonta and Chair of the College Art Association’s International Committee.


Pearlie Rose S. Baluyut
Assistant Professor of Art History; Affiliate Faculty in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, State University of New York (SUNY), Oneonta

Nhung Tuyet Tran
Associate Professor of History, University of Toronto

Main Sponsor

Asian Institute


Centre for Southeast Asian Studies

If you are attending a Munk School event and require accommodation(s), please email the event contact listed above to make appropriate arrangements.

Disclaimer: Please note that events posted on this website are considered to be public events – unless otherwise stated – and you are choosing to enter a space where your image and/or voice may be captured as part of event proceedings that may be made public as part of a broadcast, webcast, or publication (online and in print). We make every effort to ensure your personal information is kept and used in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). If you have any questions please get in touch with our office at munkschool@utoronto.ca or 416-946-8900.