Situated Nature: Field Collecting and Local Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century




Nineteenth Century, Field, Local knowledge, Natural knowledge, Collecting Practices, Collections


The naturalist’s field is often taken as a romanticized place of awe and wonder or a side activity to scientific work. This special issue seeks to establish the field as neither the origin nor the end of knowledge production. By situating nature, we seek to escape a romanticized conception of fieldwork and argue that the field is not a simple backdrop to knowledge production, nor one step in an idealized scientific protocol. Rather, the field is a space co-produced from entangled interactions between society and environment. Paying specific attention to field practices of collecting opens a critical view of narratives of idealized hardship of exploration in distant terrains. By reconnecting the history of natural history to the contingencies and agencies of fieldwork, we contribute to the contextualization of the production of knowledge about nature. Working towards better political and social definitions and delineations of the field is essential to addressing these gaps in the narrative, particularly in the long nineteenth century when nationalist, imperial and colonial rationales infused field practices.

The question of the field is also that of the conditions of amassing collections. At a time of environmental crisis, when museums and collections are set up as protective temples of biodiversity, it seems crucial to question the conditions of the making of their collections and to place them in their contexts and histories. Bringing to light the political and social implications of collecting and collections, we argue, encourages serious reflection on the non-neutrality of museums and collections.

Author Biographies

Deborah Dubald

Déborah Dubald is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Strasbourg where she works on the SNF/Sinergia-funded “Neverending Infectious Diseases” project. She holds a PhD in History from the European University Institute, Florence (2019). Her research interests lie primarily in the history of collections and the material history of science.

Catarina Madruga, Museum für Naturkunde, Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung, Berlin

Catarina Madruga is a postdoctoral researcher on the project “Colonial Provenances of Nature. The expansion of the mammal collection at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, around 1900” funded by the German Lost Art Foundation, and hosted at Humanities of Nature - Museum für Naturkunde Berlin - Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science.



2022-11-11 — Updated on 2023-01-13



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