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.

Introducing the members of The Collection Ecologies Research Collective – Part 3 —

Our collective stemmed from conversations about the connections between environmental history/humanities and collections and how much those connections are unexplored. The first steps of the collective history were exposed in the previous post which you can read here.

This week, we wish to further introduce our collective and we have asked three additional members,  Linda Andersson Burnett, Taylor Moore, and Anna Svensson to briefly introduce themselves and present their interest in the collective’s project.

Bullock’s Museum (Egyptian Hall or London Museum), 1810. Credit: Wellcome Collection, Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)


Hello Linda, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your interest in the collective?

I am a historian of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University. I am interested in the movement of natural-history ideas, people and material objects across different strata of society and across national boundaries. My particular focus is on the movement and entanglement of scientific ideas, objects and practices between Sweden and Britain in national and colonial settings. I hold a PhD in History from the University of Edinburgh (2012). Thereafter I was the Simon Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in Edinburgh before returning to Sweden in 2013.

I am delighted to be part of the Collection Ecologies research collective. My two current projects deal with instructed natural-history and anatomical collecting in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They address how museum collections were assembled through engagement between universities, museums and the lay public in this period.

In my research I try to combine a participatory agenda with an awareness of the asymmetry of power relations and, at times, tensions, conflict and violence that permeated collecting networks. This is particularly important to me when researching networks that included enslaved or Indigenous peoples. I am already learning so much from my fellow collection ecologists and I am very much looking forward to our future collaborations.

Talisman Display Case at Egyptian Geographical Society’s Ethnographic Museum, Photo by Author, Cairo, 2016.

Now your turn Taylor: who are you? Why have you joined this group?

I am a historian of science, technology, medicine/healing, and the occult in Egypt and the late Ottoman world. My research interests lie at the intersections of decolonial materiality studies, critical race studies, gender and sexuality studies, and STS. My work utilizes objects from ethnographic, medical, and natural history collections as archival sources that illuminate the occult(ed) networks, economies, and actors whose knowledge, bodies, and labor are generally rendered invisible in Eurocentric histories of global science.

I am currently a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I will join the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies for the AYs 2021-2023 where I will be working on my book project, Superstitious Women: Race, Magic, and Medicine in Egypt. My book combines amuletic objects collected in Egypt in the early twentieth century with sources in Arabic and Ottoman Turkish to reconstruct the role that Upper Egyptian female healers played in the global development of anthropological expertise and the robust political and spiritual economies of healing in late Ottoman Egypt. I am also working on projects that investigate Ottoman-Egyptian collecting and ethnographic practices as a part of the government’s attempts to colonize Nilotic East Africa and racialize Black African populations in the late nineteenth century.

My interest in Collection Ecologies is in exploring methods to use (what are generally colonial) scientific collections to write emancipatory, decolonial histories of communities in the non-West, and to tell histories of science, collecting, and knowledge production that do not center Europe or the United States. More specifically, my work develops the method of “decolonial materialism” which engages with and decolonizes new materialism to utilize its ontological possibilities to tell the stories of humans that have never been seen as “human enough.”

‘The Librarian’ by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1560s. Credit Skoklosters slott via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

And to wrap up this week’s presentations, let’s turn to Anna Svensson. Can you please tell us about yourself and your participation in the Collection Ecologies collective?

I am a historian of botany particularly interested in the ways collections have shaped this science over the longue durée, with a perennial curiosity about universal order and other utopian ideas. Collections provide a common thread to my motley background in English Literature, Museum Studies and finally History of Science, Technology and Environment (PhD 2017 from KTH, Stockholm). Much of my research to date has gravitated towards the UK, particularly the early years of the Oxford University Botanic Garden and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, but I am currently exploring more Swedish material. I will be based in Uppsala for the next three years working on ‘Botanical Marginalia’, focusing on pressed plants in books that are not collections in the formal sense, but part of a wider collecting culture. I am always on the lookout for uncatalogued examples!

This research in many ways exemplifies what attracts me to the Collection Ecologies research collective. The scattered nature of pressed plants means using them as a source material is necessarily a collaborative undertaking made possible only through the input and generosity of colleagues, librarians, archivists, and others. More widely, I have already learned so much from exchanges with other collection-oriented researchers working on the world beyond plants: firstly, there are shared challenges and rewards with collection-based research, not least at the level of theory and method; secondly, the comparison has given me a better understanding of how the specificities of plants as organisms – within different ecologies – has shaped how and why they have been collected, ordered, and valued. Collections are best explored collectively.

Many thanks to this week’s Collection Ecologists who introduced themselves. More soon, with more historians, artists and museum specialists sharing their work and interest in exploring the ‘ecology’  of natural history collections!


Introducing the members of The Collection Ecologies Research Collective – Part 2

Our collective stemmed from conversations about the connections between environmental history/humanities and collections and how much those connections are unexplored. The first steps of the collective history were exposed in the previous post which you can read here.

This week, we wish to further introduce our collective and we have asked three additional members, Apurba Chatterjee, Patrick Anthony and Anita Guerrini to briefly introduce themselves and present their interest in the collective’s project.

Detail from Two mineral specimens found in the Fossa Grande on Mount Vesuvius. Coloured etching by Pietro Fabris, 1776.
Credit: Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

Hello there Apurba, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your interest in the collective?

I am a historian of the British Empire, with a particular focus on its cultural representations. I completed my PhD at the University of Sheffield in 2020, working on visual imagery and political legitimacy in British Indian Empire between the mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Thereafter, I was an international research fellow at Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum, where I worked on the relationship between colonialism and maritime painting. I will be beginning a Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellowship later this year. I am enthusiastic about the decolonisation of historical curricula, and turn to evidence other than textual as an endeavour towards this goal. My recent publication has addressed the artworks of British landscape artists, Thomas and William Daniell in India.

As a collection ecologist, I am interested in how indigenous knowledge, especially visual knowledge, has informed European natural history and science, and political meanings of such exchanges. On a wider level, I am interested in how imperialism has defined our understanding of distinctions between the ‘scientific’ and the ‘unscientific’.

Thank you very much Apurba!

An iron mine and miners working. Detail
An iron mine and miners working. Etching by J. Heath, 1813, after C.M. Metz. Credit: Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

Now your turn Patrick: who are you? Why have joined this group?

I am a historian of science and the environment interested in the relationship between working and knowing in mines and mountains. I hold a PhD from Vanderbilt University. In 2021-23 I will be a postdoctoral researcher at the LMU Munich and Cambridge University, supported by the DAAD PRIME program. In recent publications I have studied the formation of natural knowledge within the administrative, visual, and vernacular cultures of central European mining. My first book project reimagines “Humboldtian science” from below, as a collective enterprise whose system of inquiry in mines and atop mountains was sustained by miners, technicians, surveyors, and many more.

As a collection ecologist, I am researching the socio-environmental conditions of possibility for artisans, shepherds, and other members of highland communities to play a vital, though often unacknowledged, role in natural history collecting. This is the focus of my second book project, which reconstructs the lifeworld of highland families—many of them blacksmiths, cobblers, and wainwrights by trade—who established dynastic mountain-guiding and naturalia-collecting enterprises from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Inspired by my fellow “collecologists,” I am currently working to trace modern museum objects back to their original “cabinets” in the homes of these upland artisans.

That’s fantastic, and we hope to be reading your book very soon!

Plate from Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du cabinet du roi, by Georges Louis Leclerc Buffon.
Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

And to close this week’s presentations, let’s turn to Anita. Can you please tell us about yourself and your participation to Collection Ecologies ?

I am a historian of science, medicine, and the environment. My primary research focus is at the intersections of early modern human and animal anatomy and natural history, and I have also worked on the history of animal and human experimentation, on the role of history in ecological restoration, and on the history of food. My most recent book, The Courtiers’ Anatomists: Animals and Humans in Louis XIV’s Paris (2015) looks at the animal projects of the early Paris Academy of Sciences. Currently I am working on the interpretation of fossil bones in early modern Europe, which encompasses anatomy, geology, collecting, and history-writing. These bones were often interpreted as belonging to ancestral humans, and as such they played important roles in establishing narratives of national identity. I have another related project on the history of the early modern human skeleton. I am based at Oregon State University with an additional appointment at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

I am happy to be included in the Collection Ecologies group. My current research is very much collection-based, and I am looking at both past and current natural history collections with attention to provenance and interpretation as well as to the physical bones themselves. The environmental contexts of discovery, collection and display therefore are central to my work, and I am particularly glad to be able to tie together what have often been disconnected interests within the circle of Collection Ecologies. I have already learned much from my fellow collecologists.

And we have also learned a lot from you, Anita, and we are looking forward to continue our conversation on collections.

This is it for this week’s blog from the Collection Ecologists. More soon, with more historians, but also more artists and museum specialists !

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