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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell

The Afterlives of Natural History

Alternative title: Naturhistoriens etterliv

Awarded: NOK 12.1 mill.

Project Number:

326026

Application Type:

Project Period:

2021 - 2025

Location:

Partner countries:

Climate crisis, species extinction, and plastic filling up the ocean are some of the challenges facing the world and not least academic scholarship in the present moment. To meet these challenges we need to think and work across different disciplines. Key words for such an endeavor are inter-, cross-, or trans-disciplinarity. Another key word, we will claim, is natural history. This project investigates the history of natural history, as method and practice. Starting out from a a consideration of the methods and practices of natural history in the 17th and 18th century, this project wants to investigate what became of natural history in the 19th and 20th century. We want to show how the “ways of knowing” characteristic of natural history live on in unexpected parts of the scholarly tradition, such as philology, literary criticism, and philosophical aesthetics etc. Most importantly, this project does not only want to study the knowledge practices of natural history, but to implement them into our own work. The project is based on a rich and dense network of collaborators that encompass all the institutions into which natural history made its way in the 19th and 20 centuries: the National Library, the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Cultural History and the Norwegian Folklore archive. All of them bring to the table texts and objects, which in different ways mobilize the moments and traditions of natural history. The project gravitates around the Humanities Labs organized in these institutions, where texts, objects, researchers and the public will meet.

At present, the call for a new natural history is heard from many corners of the academic world. In the natural sciences and the humanities, scholars recognize the need for a more comprehensive, wide-ranging discourse that is able to investigate and account for objects that exist at the boundaries between different epistemological and ontological orders. This project heeds that call by investigating the history of natural history not in its most systematic and self-sufficient manifestation in the 17th and 18th centuries, but through its “afterlives” in a series of moments and trajectories of knowledge: topography, Naturphilosophie, natural history museums, and critical theory. Our working hypothesis is that the lasting impact of natural history is found as much in methods and practices of scholarship as in objects of study. From the ruins of natural history several modern disciplines emerged, such as geology, biology, chemistry, and cosmology; at the same time, however, natural history practices contributed in the gestation of much more hybrid forms of scholarship. We want to show how the “ways of knowing” characteristic of natural history live on in unexpected parts of the scholarly tradition, such as philology, literary criticism, and philosophical aesthetics. Most importantly, this project does not only want to study the knowledge practices of natural history, but to implement them into our own work. The project is based on a rich and dense network of collaborators that encompass all the institutions into which natural history made its way in the 19th and 20 centuries: the National Library, the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Cultural History and the Norwegian Folklore archive. All of them bring to the table texts and objects, which in different ways mobilize the moments and traditions of natural history. The project gravitates around the Humanities Labs organized in these institutions, where texts, objects, researchers and the public will meet.

Funding scheme:

SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell