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Changing Natures. Collecting the Anthropocene Together

Object collage made from collection objects from Changing Natures


"Changing Natures: Object Talks. Case Studies on an Open Collection Experiment", September 25th and October 16th 2023, 5-7pm. (with experts in academia and society, no public)

    A Collection Experiment

    From images of burning rainforests depicting the vast scale of human interventions in nature to exponential curves that trace the growth of global carbon dioxide emissions or plastic pollution in the world's oceans: visualisations play a crucial role in revealing the extent of the transformations unfolding around the world as a result of human activity. However, they can only help us to a limited degree to comprehend the shift in our relationship with nature and to develop solutions that societies can embrace in response to global crises.

    "Changing Natures" seeks to explore both the planetary power of humankind as a geological force and our entanglement in the Earth system and interactions with other species through the lens of subjective experience. This joint project with the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle Paris aims to forge new forms of knowledge transfer in the context of natural history collections. Cultural knowledge of the impacts of humankind on nature forms the focus of this project: How do social, collective or individual ideas shape our relationship to nature? What do material traces of changing human-nature relationships — such as everyday objects, artefacts and documents from the past — tell us about global transformations?

    New Collection Practices: Open, Digital, Interconnected

    people stand in front of the figurative network of Anthropocene objects

    This explorative project takes an innovative approach to collecting, with an open, bottom-up process supported by citizen scientists. The platform will host a growing experimental collection of user-curated objects that tell stories about our changing environment and the human relationship to nature across diverse themes such as the loss of biodiversity and more. Within this emerging collection, natural-cultural objects of memory submitted by users will be presented alongside their finders' personal stories: Ranging from sound files of birdsong to digitalized cookbooks featuring long-forgotten vegetable varieties and stories of houseplants that have passed down through generations. Users will also be able to link, filter, and comment on objects and their stories.

    This project takes an exploratory approach on three levels:

    • Spanning diverse topics, the collection is a space for multiple perspectives, previously unheard stories, and diverse perceptions of our changing relationship to nature.
    • In terms of its methodology, the collection is designed as a participatory and digital collection. A trilingual (German, French, English) online platform is currently being created in dialogue with citizen scientists. This will serve as a collection, exhibition, and research platform for different uses, including discovery, research and participation.
    • The data collected through the platform are part of an exploratory process in which collective memories and everyday objects are viewed in the context of their connections through communities of storytelling and collaborative metadata creation.

    This project emerged from a Franco-German working group on citizen science. The participating museums are jointly responsible for the development, resources, and implementation of the project. The development of this collection will be accompanied by a range of events and research activities in cooperation with experts from different disciplines as well as public outreach events at the museums in Berlin and Paris.

    Natural History Collections in the "The Age of Humankind”

    Our increasingly expansive lifestyles and production methods have far-reaching consequences for biological, atmospheric, and geological processes on Earth. Traces of these impacts can now be found in the sediments and rock layers of the Earth, giving rise to claims that we have entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, the "Age of Humankind". In this new age, the distinction between humankind and nature has collapsed. As a consequence, the conventional division of knowledge into (natural) science on the one hand, and art, culture and society on the other is incapable of adequately capturing the changes unfolding today.

    This project understands the "Anthropocene" above all as an opportunity to reinvent the organization of knowledge for our present and to rethink the social and cultural dimensions of natural history collections. Equally, it invites us to broaden the scope of scientific knowledge held and produced by natural history museums to include collective, vernacular, and multi-perspectival forms of knowledge about nature. In the face of the global challenges facing humankind, we aim to collect, connect, and harness new and hybrid forms of knowledge about the complex interconnections between humans and nature in dialogue with society.