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New edition 2020: The nature of things

The Museum für Naturkunde Berlin holds a collection of about 30 million objects that exhibit an enormous diversity. It includes skeletons, skins, wet and dry specimens, minerals, DNA-samples, written documents and drawings, an archive of animal sounds and many others. These heterogeneous things constitute a reservoir of scientific knowledge that provides us with information about natural processes and evolution. However, they are also objects of cultural, historical, and political significance that tell tales of globalization and of the scientific exploration of the world. On display in the museum, objects are pieces of evidence for scientific narratives or aesthetically pleasing exhibits that represent “nature” and our way of perceiving, investigating and communicating it.

In an integrated research museum, museum objects assume different functions in research and in communication. They move and fascinate a multitude of actors. In this respect, the museum, its collections, and its exhibitions create a space for diverse processes of appropriation and interpretation.

The research project “Wissensdinge” aims to make these multi-layered, cultural interpretations visible in an exemplary fashion. We want to bring the diverse contexts and interpretations of scientific specimen to light. “Wissensdinge” investigates the meaning and role of collection items in different cultures of knowledge – in the sciences, in cultural studies, in artistic enquiry or in the public. The object stories we collect form an interdisciplinary collage of many voices. Our objective is to illustrate the historicity, the singularity, the contingency and the cultural situatedness of our perceptions of scientific objects. An international conference in March 2015 provided ample space for discussion.  As a result of the research project, the book "Wissensdinge" (Knowledge of Things) was published in 2015 and quickly sold out. The book has been available in an updated and expanded new edition since November 2020.

(Only in German)


Funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.