We are live! Meet Collection Ecologies

Twelve different species of bees swarming a flowery meadow. Coloured etching by J. Bishop, 1855, after J. Stewart.

Twelve different species of bees swarming a flowery meadow. Coloured etching by J. Bishop, 1855, after J. Stewart.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

What we do

Both environmental history as well as the history of natural history collections and collecting have gained much momentum and public attention in recent years. However, the productive potential of exploring both in conjunction has not yet been fully realized, especially in relation to how collections developed and still function as sites of entanglement across continents, species, societies, and bodies. We are a group of scholars from multiple regions and disciplines who want to re-assess the value of scientific collections for multidisciplinary research in light of environmental issues and the need for sustainable action both in museums and at universities. We want to explore how historical ecology approaches can be used to analyse the past of collections and how (historical) collections may provide important answers for current ecological issues now and in the future. From an environmental history perspective, informed by a decolonial approach, we would like to explore the circumstances and environments in which organisms and objects were found and created for collections. A wide variety of people and infrastructures were necessary to identify, locate and acquire objects and make them usable for a multitude of interests and interested parties. This has important ramifications for rethinking provenance research ecologically.

We research the environments in which collecting took place but also highlight ecological knowledge created by collecting as well as the opportunities for collecting created by environmental crises. Marginalised human actors and groups as well as non-human organisms and formations take central stage.

The environments of archives, libraries and collections are interesting for us too and we want to highlight the ways in which collections can and have been understood as environments, or even ecosystems themselves with their own ecologies and multispecies encounters. Collections are ideal places to reflect on the (historical) instability and potential of scientific disciplines, including ecology and environmental history, as well as on the diversity of actors in the processes of knowledge production.

We will also offer for discussion a variety of perspectives for a future environmental history of collections. In case studies from art history, the history of science, material culture and museum studies as well as historical ecology, we will discuss how collections and museums have been used to display and construct historical environments. This includes also how human subjects and remains became a part of natural history collections and an analysis of the infrastructures that enable(d) collections and the material of artefacts. This reconstructive work is important to consider in any multidisciplinary research on the relations of collections to historic environments and attempts to model historic environments through collections.

Who we are

These are the people in the collective: https://collecte.hypotheses.org/collection-ecologists

Stay tuned for upcoming posts presenting all members!

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