Date limite de soumission : vendredi 17 juin 2022
Paper workshop Humanities of Nature, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin10-11 Nov 2022
« In 1894, a shipment from Cameroon arrived in Berlin weighing an impressive 396 kilograms of both ethnographic objects and natural history specimens. It was sent by colonial gardener Georg Zenker, the director of the German research station near today’s capital, Yaoundé. This load is one among many more that were shipped to Germany during the colonial occupation of territories like Cameroon. The Museum für Völkerkunde, the Zoologisches Museum, and the Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum were officially in charge of centralizing and managing any incoming objects. Zenker’s shipment is illustrative of two decisive elements of colonial collecting in this period : on the one hand, the undisciplined / transdisciplinary character of collecting practices ; on the other, the sheer weight and absolute number of objects that evidences the immoderation of the extractive process. Transdisciplinarity and the excesses of accumulation were two salient traits of the translocation of objects from colonial contexts to European museums. Extracting Cameroonian nature and culture and translocating it to museums in Germany was justified and eagerly pursued as Cameroon was seen as a culturally rich and diverse territory, and it is still today considered an important biodiversity hotspot. The politics of accumulation, plundering and excessive hunting transformed the physical landscape and affected nature and culture (Kirchberger and Bennett, 2020). The collecting sciences laid the ground for multiple forms of colonial appropriations and the accumulation of capital and economic power, rendering both “territories and peoples extractible” within a “matrix of symbolic, physical, and representational violence” (Gómez-Barris, 2017). Western institutions and knowledge systems based in European metropolis contributed directly to a system of unequal representation built on mechanisms of “slow violence” against peoples, landscapes, and epistemologies that continue to have effects until today (Nixon, 2013). Departing from the numerous translocated objects that were thought to represent Cameroon in Western museums, this workshop invites authors to discuss and develop analytical tools to render visible the processes through which a colonized territory was prospected and transformed into an “extractible,” economically profitable and scientifically productive, landscape. Authors are invited to consider Cameroon as a case-study to transdisciplinary analyse and compare excessive collecting in contexts of colonial rule and unequal representation. We suggest that this approach opens up a wide range of questions, such as, but not limited to : “Collectors”, labour & resistance : Is “collector” still an adequate and precise enough term, when we fully consider the massive appropriation of animals, plants, or minerals, amassed by multiple agents, networks, and colonial infrastructures ? How can we excavate the colonial archive in order to dig out the role of local epistemologies, invisible labour, and often-obscured background negotiation and active or passive resistance by the local population ? Geographies of extraction & transparency : In museum catalogues, Cameroon is typically represented through disparate scientific locations, which often follow the progress of German military expeditions and the process of the establishment of colonial stations. Given that catalogues are often opaque and normative tools of control and erasure, how can we work critically with them ? Contemporary calls for the digitization of collections and catalogues put pressure on provenance research and on collaborative research practices. How can digital provenance research on colonial collections work without reproducing the biases and inequalities of the physical collections ? Dislocation & restitution : Today, Cameroon leads several nature conservation projects regarding its biodiversity. However, many relevant specimens for scientific research of fauna and flora from Cameroon are held in Western collections. The physical and written documentation of nature, culture, and local knowledge, which took place in the course of colonization was built from a European perspective. What consequences does this transfer of knowledge, resources, and physical specimens and artifacts still hold today ? In what ways can this reflection become a concrete and meaningful part of the process of restitution of knowledge and/or collections ? Extinction & charismatic animals : The naturalization of practices of capturing and displaying peoples, animals and plants, resulted in some of the most gruesome visual rhetoric of colonialism. Exhibitionary practices and audiences of colonial and scientific exhibitions contributed to construct exoticism and appropriation by distance. As Gorillas that exist in various species in Cameroon became a symbol of brutish nature and untamed wilderness, their capture and exhibition was a means to subjugate and discipline. Albeit the growth of conservation concerns at the turn of the twentieth century, hunting laws dating back to colonial times were often ostensible circumvented for scientific purposes, contributing to the extinction process already witnessed at the time. What role can physical specimens still play for local challenges of conservation and research ? »
This workshop is planned as a paper discussion workshop with pre-circulated papers and commentators with a future collective publication in mind. We invite scholars from all disciplines that deal with collecting practices and their decolonization, from the natural sciences to anthropology, including, but not limited to, social sciences, history and philosophy of biology, archival sciences, colonial photography, museum studies, and provenance studies.
The workshop will take place on 10-11 November 2022, in Berlin, eventually with a hybrid or full online format.
The language of the workshop is English, however we will take into account proposals in other languages, especially those spoken in Cameroon, and are prepared to help with translation services.
Prospective contributors are welcome to contact the organizers for any inquiries and clarifications. To apply, please submit an abstract of max.300 words and a short biography of max.100 words to catarina.madruga chez mfn.berlin Ina.Heumann chez mfn.berlin Katja.Kaiser chez mfn.berlin
The workshop is planned within the project « Colonial Provenances of Nature. The Expansion of the Mammal collections of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin » funded by the German Lost Art
10-11 novembre 2022 (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin)
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