Traces of Inequality – Tracing Hidden Rural History

Our last TRACTS Year 1 meeting is taking place on 10-11 October 2022 in the Ethnographic Museum in Cracow, Poland. The WG2 workshop focuses on various approaches to tracing visual and non-visual aspects of a landscape. The group explores a range of topics related to landscape tracking. Participants follow the paths of the landscape with short presentations outlining innovative, experimental perspectives.

By focusing on the case of peasant monuments of freedom from the 19th century in rural Central and Eastern Europe, the meeting sets out to interrogate the relations between materiality, social justice and inequality. By tracing this hidden cross-border history, we can begin to investigate the legacy of rural poverty and its entanglement with conteporary relations of violence and inequality in society today.

CFP: Tracing temporalities, unearthing collections

How do we trace the relationship between time and collections? What are the ethical challenges of researching collections in museums and earth archives?

When:  April 2023

Where: Berlin and Potsdam

How to apply?

Submit your abstracts (max. 250 words) by 31 October 2022 by emailing:

A limited number of applications from early to mid-career scholars can be fully funded.  

The participation in the workshop requires COST Action Membership. 

Collections are sites for preserving traces of the past for the future. Acquired, cared for and interpreted in museums and archives, they have been developed concurrently with scientific disciplines. In geosciences, collections of geological and stratigraphic specimens extracted from territories worldwide have served to mark deep time. They contribute to the scientific imaginary of a nature that can be contained and classified. Ethnographic collections that originally intended to represent non-European societies, have presented peoples and cultures as if frozen in time. This ahistorical gaze is entangled with coloniality that continues to affect the classification and interpretation of collections, both ethnographic objects and those acquired in earth archives, terrestrial environments comprising records of past human and evolutionary activity.

Collections are neither inherently stable nor neutral, and their temporality raises multiple ethical questions regarding their acquisition, preservation, interpretation, and restitution. Research on collection histories has revealed the legacies of appropriation and knowledge asymmetries, as well as highlighted the importance of repatriation and repair. It sheds light on the ways in which collections and archives are frequently enmeshed with histories of violence and imperial extraction. Scientific collections, including geological specimens and ethnographic objects, are also entwined with illicit practices of knowledge production in which samples were unethically extracted from environments. The appropriation processes have also left ambiguous traces of scientific practice and voids in the spaces and societies of origin. The reconstruction and representation of nature or society from collections follows specific classification and categorization standards that can be ethically problematic as they entrench colonial relations of  knowledge production and circulation. ollections seek to tell a coherent story about “nature” or “culture” from traces of social lives and geological formations. However, the incommensurability and complexity of the environments from where these traces originate defy and challenge those classificatory efforts and measurement practices. Although collections are kept to span through time, their objects are not timeless but require vast amounts of energy, materials and infrastructures. The cost of prolonging the lives of artifacts and keeping collections stable in museums and scientific archives, presents ethical challenges in terms of resource management, preservation and sustainability.

In this three-day workshop, organised by the COST Action “Trace as a Research Agenda for Climate Change, Technology Studies, and Social Justice” (TRACTS), we aim to critically explore the ethics of collections in museums and geological archives through the lens of temporality. The event seeks to initiate interdisciplinary exchange between the disparate fields of inquiry in the critical studies of different forms of collections and archives by considering the ethics of acquisition, preservation and use. We welcome presentations focusing on, but not limited to studies on:


Magdalena Buchczyk, Hermann von Helmholtz Center for Cultural Techniques, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HZK), Berlin

Martín Fonck, Institute for Advanced Studies in Sustainability, Potsdam

Tina Palaić, Slovene Ethnographic Museum, Ljubljana

Tomás Usón, Institute of European Ethnology & IRI THESys, Humboldt University of Berlin

Workshop plan

The first part of the event will focus on social, historical, and cultural traces in collections. By highlighting a range of archival, museum and university material, the symposium will investigate the ethical implications of working with unsettling traces in collections. The speakers will consider the importance of thinking through temporality in collections, from provenance research, entangled histories, and the long-term historicities, including the relationships between carbon footprints and collections (through habits and technologies of preservation). Additional focus will be on museum practices and curatorial knowledge in former socialist countries in relation to museum collections, with an emphasis on the peripheral concepts of understanding the »other«.

The second part of the workshop will address the “sources” of collections by centering geological collections containing traces of strata sedimentation and geomorphologies. Building on the notion of earth archives, i.e., places of atmospheric deposition containing a vast amount of data of the past millennia, we expect to problematize the efforts of representing nature based on the traces these massive archives offer. We aim to reflect on the traces these earth entities leave along their way, and how these “clues” and (im)possibilities to engage with a distant past allow the construction of common futures. The geological trace, under this view, is more than stratigraphic data produced, contained, and performed by researchers and scholars. It is primarily the temporal sediment that sustains our (un)common worlds and leads to speculative anticipations of those to come. 

By connecting these seemingly disparate lines of inquiry, types of collections and temporalities, we aim to develop new cross-disciplinary approaches to the ethics of collections, collecting and trace in the archive.

Restitution: Or, how (to begin) to repair a broken world

Peripheral Memories, Transnational Mobilities: Decolonial Approaches to Visual & Material Traces of Empire

WG2 Meeting: Traces and Social Justice in Lisbon

As part of the WG2 meeting, we are organising a public panel discussion on the theme of reparation. Please join on 30th September at 18:30 (WEST) online.

The colonial project used violence, both overtly and covertly, to reorganize and control social life. Violence was exerted on and through bodies, but also on and through objects. This public dialogue brings together scholars, artists, and activists grappling with collective calls for restitution, for the return of art objects, and for public recognition of these histories of extraction. Drawing on multiple case studies and experiences, the participants will discuss different approaches to restitution and consider how these projects take form in Southern Europe, where histories of empire and dictatorship overlap.


Inês Beleza Barreiros is a visual archaeologist. Her research interests are located at the intersection of visual culture, memory studies and decolonial theory-praxis and their articulation within the history of the Portuguese empire, in particular its contemporary modes of existence. She also holds a special interest in indigenous cosmogonies, animal studies, and trees.

Lee Douglas is a filmmaker, curator, and visual anthropologist who work considers the intersections of history, memory, and visuality in contexts marked by violence, absence, and radical political change. She currently directs the research project “Militant Imaginaries, Colonial Memories”, funded with Marie Sklodowska Curie Individual Fellowship.

Emanuel Matondo is a journalist and activist, currently based in Germany.  In 1998, he co-founded the Angolan Anti-Militarism Initiative for Human Rights (IAADH) where his responsibilities include research and public relations, lobbying, advocacy, and actions to promote peace.

Roger Sansi Roca is a sociocultural anthropologist and senior lecturer at the University of Barcelona. He is the author of Art, Anthropology and the GiftThe Anthropologist as Curator; and Fetishes and Monuments: Afro-Brazilian Art & Culture in the 20th Century.

Catarina Simão is an artist and researcher who lives and works between Maputo and Lisbon. Her practice is built upon long-term research projects that entail collaborative partnerships and different forms of presentation to the public. Since 2009, she has worked with the notion of Archive, engaging especially with Mozambique colonial and anti-colonial history. She co-directed a Mozambique TV film called Djambo in 2016 and in 2019 she co-organized together with Oficina de História (Mozambique) the 1st Seminar on Restitution of art and artefacts to Mozambique (CCFM, May 2019).

Organised by Lee Douglas and Inês Beleza Barreiros

Dictatorship, Revolution, Decolonization: Traces of the Past in Contemporary Portugal (Management Committee Meeting 2022)

Friday, April 1, 2022 – Saturday, April 2, 2022

Locations: IHC-NOVA/Colégio Almada Negreiros, Museu do Aljube – Resistência e Liberdade

In this inaugural meeting, members of our network’s Management Committee discussed and shared methodological, ethical, and theoretical approaches to understanding and analyzing the concept of the trace across multiple disciplines, particularly history, anthropology, migration studies, museum studies, and areas of artistic research and production.

Based in Lisbon, the meeting focused on how researchers, activists, and artists working in and on Portugal design and implement decolonial approaches to the material and visual traces of political change. While the first day of the meeting focused on internal network coordination and future initiatives, the second day introduced participants to how the past intersects with the present in contemporary Portugal.

Traces of inequality: Tracing hidden rural history

14–15 October 2022. Krakow, Poland
WG2 Meeting “Traces of inequality: Tracing hidden rural history”

This event consists of an online WG2 Working Group Meeting and a hybrid workshop about visual & material traces of resistance hidden in the landscape. It focuses on serfdom crosses – almost forgotten monuments of peasant freedom across Eastern Europe. #tractsresearch

Tracing (climate) crisis, visualizing change

6–7 October 2022. Madrid, Spain
WG1 and WG3 Meeting “Tracing (climate) crisis, visualizing change: Reimagining & activating a counter-atlas of the trace”

Tracing (climate) crisis, visualizing change: Reimagining & activating a counter-atlas of the trace

In this joint meeting, members of Working Groups 1 & 3 will discuss the elaboration of TRACTS (counter) atlas, thus initiating the TRACTS Atlas Curatorial Collective that will oversee the elaboration of the TRACTS Atlas, its articulation with the proposed book series, and its utility for the network’s broader mentoring goals. The two-day event will include separate workshop sessions for members of WG1 and WG3 that focus on the elaboration and discussion of pertinent bibliography regarding each group’s specific area of analysis and their connections with mapping, tracing, and creating atlas-inspired visualizations regarding the ethical, methodological, and conceptual approaches to the trace. #tractsresearch

Peripheral memories and transnational mobilities

30 September–1 October 2022. Lisbon, Portugal
WG1 Meeting “Peripheral memories and transnational mobilities: Decolonial approaches to the material and visual traces of empire” 

In this Meeting, members of WG1 will discuss and share methodological, ethical, and theoretical approaches to understanding and analyzing the concept of the trace across multiple disciplines, particularly history, anthropology, migration studies, museum studies, and areas of artistic research and production. 

During the 20th century, countries in Southern Europe experienced a wave of dictatorships. Many of these projects also reinforced and/or contributed to projects of empire. Building on Michael Rothberg’s concept of “multidirectional memory,” which draws attention to how memory narratives in the public sphere are subject to forms of negotiation, mediation, and cross-referencing this meeting considers how artists, researchers, and activists engage with the material and visual traces of empire to articulate new forms of narrating and understanding the past, where multiple histories of violence can exist in dialogue. Thinking critically with concepts such as “periphery,” “semi-periphery,” and “contact zone,” the meeting will focus on how artists, researchers, activists, and practitioners are rethinking the politics of historical knowledge production while also reimagining how we engage with the traces of empire in ways that are decolonial, antiracist, and radical. 

The meeting will bring together early to mid-career researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds to present and discuss ongoing work on decolonial approaches to the visual and material traces of empire. Interrogating the categories of “periphery” and “semi-periphery,” the discussions will focus on how Southern Europe constitutes a unique contact zone, where a multiplicity of histories and experiences co-exist and overlap. Focusing on how communities, objects, and images move in, around, and cross different spaces, the meeting will consider how interrogating the visual and material traces of “empire” can be a point of departure for reimagining forms of political contestation, action, and reparation.  Combining internal working group sessions with public-facing programming, this event will open dialogue amongst artists, researchers, and decolonial activists whose work proposes innovative and radical approaches to rethinking the memories and histories of colonialism in Southern Europe. #tractsresearch

Radical Heritage: Tracing Resistance in (Post)Socialist Europe

International Workshop, 9–10 September 2022

Zagreb, Croatia

How do people make sense of wartime remains in today's societies?
How do heritage professionals mediate traces of war in community-based projects?
How do contemporary debates such as epistemic decolonization, new authoritarianisms and nationalisms influence the relationship between heritage professionals and communities?

There is a growing interest for the materiality of social struggles and modern warfare among heritage practitioners across the world, especially in contexts in which materiality opens new opportunities to discuss memories and narratives that have been marginalized or silenced in the public sphere. However, the study of recent past and its materiality is still contentious in many academic contexts, such as post-socialist Europe.

The October Revolution, the workers' struggles, and the Second World War have been extensively documented and memorialized in socialist Europe. Former socialist countries pioneered documentation practices in the research or memorialization of modern warfare, often focused on the commemoration and musealization of official wartime narratives. Furthermore, the materiality of war and antifascist resistance was an important component of artistic and architectural practices across postwar Europe. These practices aimed at a new understanding of the past, and new ways of memorializing wartime events by emphasizing the affective potential of sites and objects.

In some socialist countries, such as Yugoslavia, traces of war encouraged the creativity of heritage professionals (historians, art historians, ethnographers), and stakeholders (museums, local communities). This interest strongly influenced heritage policies and concepts, as well as the aesthetics of memorial structures commemorating the Second World War. However, after the collapse of socialism, political interests of heritage authorities in former socialist countries switched towards different, often opposing historical episodes and narratives. These narratives aimed at strengthening national identities in opposition to the socialist projects. Traces of antifascist resistance and social struggles of the 20th century were challenged, abandoned, or destroyed, creating yet another layer of political and social violence that deserves further investigation. The ongoing war in Ukraine exposed multifaceted and contradictory narratives built on the heritage of the Second World War, which include the mobilization of antifascist discourse to legitimize nationalism, and the destruction of wartime memorials.

Participants of this WG2 workshop explore the role of materiality in the construction of heritage discourses grounded on the Second World War, and other 20th century revolutionary, military and social conflicts. We are interested in surveying recent developments in the multidisciplinary field of critical heritage studies, and in exchanging experiences across different methodological traditions with a focus on the concept of trace in the context of modern conflicts. This should encourage us to rethink the role of heritage professionals in communities that are dealing with the legacies of recent conflicts or exposed once again to the threat of unrestricted violence. With this workshop we want to explore the ways in which we can critically mobilize the traces of conflict to support and advance claims for social justice.

Tracing and dwelling in post-anthropocentric landscapes

12–14 August 2022. Ralsko, Czech Republic
WG3 Training School 'Tracing and dwelling in post-anthropocentric landscapes' organised by dr Petr Gibas, Institute of Sociology, Czech Academy of Sciences

How do we trace environmental destruction and its social impacts within a landscape?

What use do and should social sciences and humanities make of traces of the past, and of potential futures, when studying landscapes in transformation?

How we as scientists (and embodied beings) acknowledge, conceptualize and methodologically use more-than-human properties of landscapes?

The first TRACTS training school, coordinated by the Working Group 4 on Traces and Climate Change, focused on conceptual and methodological issues related to more-than-human entanglements constitutive of landscape and ensuing challenges for research. The aim was to explore innovative methodological avenues for engaging with traces of transformation in/of a post-mining / post-military landscape.

The training school took place in an area impacted by long term exploitation by military and mining operations including underground mining and in-situ leaching of uranium. It brought together participants from six COST Member countries to get a hands-on experience of the landscape to discuss and explore innovative methodological avenues for acknowledging and researching traces of past and present transformation as well as open futures. It allowed space for creative re-thinking of research practices and methodologies by means of conceptual as well as hands-on explorations led by practitioners from academia and the arts. #tractsresearch

Photograph by dr Petr Gibas, Institute of Sociology, Czech Academy of Sciences
Photograph by dr Laura Roe, University of St Andrews
Photograph by dr Laura Roe, University of St Andrews
Photograph by dr Laura Roe, University of St Andrews
Photograph by dr Laura Roe, University of St Andrews

Technologies and traces of memories

17 June, Exeter, UK
WG4 Meeting on “Technologies and traces of memories” 

This interdisciplinary workshop kicked off the activities of WG4 on traces and technology. It included interdisciplinary presentations exploring the interplay between memory practices and technological advances. The workshop was organised by dr Nikita Chiu, Senior Lecturer in Innovation Policy at SITE, University of Exeter. #tractsresearch