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: tina.palaic@etno-muzej.si.

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:

Organizers

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.

Panellists

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