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Towards a collection of the Anthropocene

Objekte aus unserer Precollection.

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A Collection Experiment

Images of burning rainforests, exponential curves or the vast amount of plastic in the oceans: We deeply rely on these visualisations to describe the extent of global transformations through human action. Their ability to help us comprehend the changing relationship with nature in detail, however, is limited. The same holds true for their potential to develop concrete societal options to act and to respond to the global crisis.

"Towards a Collection of the Anthropocene" aims to find access points to individual experiences of human entanglements in the Earth system and with other species. As a joint project with the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle Paris, we are looking for new forms of knowledge transfer in the context of natural history collections. We therefore focus on the cultural knowledge of human influence on nature: 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

The collecting process will start from scratch in an open bottom up process together with Citizen Scientists. A newly created online platform will host the growing experimental collection: We ask participants to submit objects from the past they feel personally connected to and that contain stories about changes in human-nature relationships; e.g. about biodiversity loss. While these natural-cultural memory objects (a sound file of a bird song, a copy of an old cookbook with forgotten vegetables or a houseplant that has been nurtured for generations) remain connected to the personal story of the participant we also aim to build connections to other people’s objects and memories.

We pursue an exploratory approach on three levels:

Concerning the subject: The collection aims to open a space to multiple perspectives, unheard stories and heterogeneous perceptions of the changing relations between humans and nature.

Concerning the method: We currently create a participatory online platform together with citizen scientists, which will serve as a collection, exhibition and research space.

The collected data is also part of the exploratory process: Collective memories and everyday objects are as much in focus as their interconnectedness through shared storytelling and collectively created metadata.

The project emerged from a Franco-German working group on Citizen Science. Both museums are equally responsible for the development, the resources and implementation of the project. Accompanying the development of the experimental collection, various public events and research activities will take place in collaboration with scientists from different disciplines as well as citizen scientists.

Natural History Collections in the "The Age of Humankind”

The expansive ways of human life and production have a decisive impact on the biological, atmospheric and geological processes on Earth today. They can even be traced down to the sediments — which serves as a key argument to describe the present age as “Anthropocene”, the "Age of Humankind". In this current geological epoch, human action can no longer be seen as being different from nature. Thus the associated division of knowledge - into (natural) sciences on the one hand; art, culture and society on the other — is not viable to grasp the changes of our present.

In this respect, the project sees the "Anthropocene" above all as an occasion to provide impulses for the reorganisation of knowledge for our present: This also implies thinking anew about the social and cultural dimension of natural history collections. The aim is to expand the existing, rich scientific knowledge of natural history museums by including collective, everyday, multi-perspective forms of knowledge about nature. In view of the global challenges and in dialogue with the public, we intend to collect, connect and create new, hybrid forms of knowledge about the complex interconnections between humans and nature.

 
Funding

Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)