Introducing the members of The Collection Ecologies Research Collective – Part 4 —

Hello, everyone. Please join me in this new weekly post introducing another set of incredible CollEcologists! This time we have again a good display of the interdisciplinary cross-pollination we want to represent with our collective. It is my pleasure to present three brilliant members: Sybille Neumeyer, Andreas Weber, and Mareike Vennen.

Let’s start with you Sybille, tell us a bit about yourself and your latest projects and collaborations:

I am an interdependent* artist and researcher with a background in art history, linguistics, ethnology and visual communication, based in Berlin. Currently I am affiliated with the IASS– Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam and guest researcher at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin. My artworks and participatory workshops are often developed in exchange and dialogue with researchers and scientists, and are based on archival research and cross-disciplinary thought. Some of my recent projects include: “souvenirs entomologiques” in collaboration with the State Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe (SMNK) and the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, where I examined journeys of insects as specimen, as data, and as organisms (chapter I: odonata/weathering data is currently on view at ZKM Karlsruhe as part of the exhibition Critical Zones); and “voicing encounters – a narrative cartography of virus”, a series of group walks in the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, and around it, that draw together polyphonic (hi)stories on microorganisms, pests and parasites.

(* working within and supported by a rhizome of colleagues, institutions, researchers and more-than-human communities)

This sounds fascinating, and indeed thought-provoking. What are some of the reflections and questions you would like to explore in this collective?

I am reflecting on environmental issues and nature-cultures and thus am interested in natural histories and futures and, of course, collections and archives as sites where these unfold. Here I am researching about intersecting ecologies of care and control: practices and politics of collecting, logistics, conservation of spaces, subjects and objects, and archives. My current focus is on museum pests, conservation matters and animaterialities. So, how do these practices inform perspectives on environmental issues and multispecies health? How can they inspire more symbiotic assemblages? And how do they shape human-nature-relationships in pasts, presents and futures? 

Indeed this collective is shaping up to become a great place to start these compelling reflections. Thank you! And, how about you, Mareike? Please tell us about some of your research interests.

I am a cultural scientist, currently working at the Humboldt University in Berlin. I am interested in the material culture and logistics of and in natural history; the politics of (colonial) collecting and as well as the environmental history of urban spaces. I am especially concerned with the circulation of objects, knowledge and practices and their entanglements with infrastructural, governmental and environmental issues. My first book and PhD explores the early history of the aquarium in nineteenth century Britain and Germany. Following the aquatic animals from the sea into private aquariums in the middle of the city is what made me wonder about the history of artificial, miniaturised (watery) environments, their material and epistemic worlds and their imaginaries. After having then worked on questions of colonial collecting in a project investigating Dinosaurs in Berlin’s natural history museum, my current research in the cooperative project “Animals as Objects” again focuses on collecting and collections of animals in urban environments. It explores the entangled history between zoos and natural history museums, tracing the material, data and discursive ecologies, which form and inform the care, conservation and unruliness of animals, both dead and alive. This research is also the basis for a broader project on urban nature in twentieth century Berlin. 

So many interesting research directions! Do you want to share with us an example of how your work deals with these connections as a CollEcologist?

What might best describe my interest in Collection < > Ecologies is a wood sample, completely riddled with holes, infested by a shipworm in the nineteenth century, today stored in a cabinet at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin. This object reminded me that the natural history of the animal that bored through the wood and sunk hundreds of wooden vessels and underwater piers cannot be detached from the material, scientific and commercial and military history of wood and of ships, of museum collections, maritime infrastructures and colonialism. Tracing its history means to explore the entanglements between imperial trade, natural history collecting and maritime infrastructure as well as their ecological effects and changes in marine biodiversity. Collection < > Ecologies provides me with both a historical and conceptual framework: a new take on questions about environmental histories in and of collections that connects the history of scientific classification and its moral economies to a political history of stowaways. 

Thank you, that was such a stimulating way to frame our future collaborations! Now, to wrap things up, let me introduce you to Andreas. Please tell us a little about your current work:

I am an assistant professor in the research group of Science, Technology and Policy Studies (STePS) at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. In my research and teaching, I examine the relationship between Science, Technology and Culture (STC) from a long-term and global perspective. I have a special interest in the history of natural history, natural historical collections and chemistry in insular Southeast Asia and Europe. This includes research into how computational technologies can be used to contextualize and provide access to valuable digitized scientific collections, e.g., in the field of natural history.

This is such an innovative field! Tell us more about how you use this expertise to think of collection < > ecologies.

Together with curators and computer scientists I am reflecting upon how digital technologies can be used to develop a more nuanced understanding of ‘biodiversity’ heritage in which collection circumstances (in particular in former colonial areas) and historically evolving interpretations of specimens play a more central role. I am also one of the editors of the book series Emergence of Natural History (ENH) published by Brill in Leiden. 

And that’s it from us this week! Thank you again, Sybille, Mareike, and Andreas, for your remarkable contributions to the collective! Please stay tuned for more introductions, and more content, in the upcoming weeks.


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