Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne

June 1-2, 2023 Climate Change Working Group

[Image: Le rebrousse-poll, nº 6-7, 1978. Archive Contestataires]

Archives are spaces of conflict where history and memory are constantly disputed. They tend to reproduce the political and cultural power of modernity. Yet, since the 1970s they have been largely challenged by post-structuralist critics, feminism, queer theory and decolonial discourses, among others, which have detected the exclusions, authoritarianism and epistemological roughness that traditionally operate in archival practice. At the same time, from these nodes of knowledge, various ways of subverting archives have been suggested, with proposals for counter-archives and anarchives. In the current context of ecological and energy crisis, it becomes urgent to include the ecosocial approach in the equation of critical analysis of the archive and its technologies. This workshop aims to question where, with which intensities, and how the traces of the ecological movement are studied and disseminated at the international level.

This two-day meeting intends to open a space to approach the traces of environmentalism without temporal or geographical restriction by three different, though complementary, ways.

  1. Drawing attention to the usual lack of ecological specificity of archives. Although there are repositories created and managed by environmental groups, it is common to find the documents and graphic and audiovisual materials produced by the movement, or of importance for reconstructing its history, in other kinds of archives, like the one belonging to trade unions, foundations or governmental entities. Locating the spaces where the traces of ecologism lie is part of our interests.
  2. Studying the structure and metabolism of archives. In the archival collections dwell the bases of the mindsets that allow us to think and understand the past of environmentalism, which are in permanent connection with the values, interests and needs of the present. These mental frameworks define cataloguing processes, heritage policies between the preservation and dissemination of archival documents. All this affects the current role of the memory of environmentalism. Rethinking how to access archives or to develop cultural policies beyond the logics of mere material accumulation, how to address the energy costs required to guarantee the material conditions (temperature, humidity or digitization processes) for document preservation, or how to experiment with ways of disseminating materials and forms of historical production are also central to us.
  3. Providing examples of work with environmental archives from a multidisciplinary perspective. Be it through the activity of activist collectives or archivists concerned with environmental memory; from different academic branches, such as the history of toxics or visual culture; or through the practice of artists and curators committed to developing ways of recovering and making known the materials of environmental memory. The aim of this event is to share ways of working with and from the archive and to think collectively how to make visible the traces of ecological activism in its multiple historical, social, economic and environmental entanglements throughout history.

In order to explore this approach to the question of ecological and environmental archiving, we call for the participation of ecologists, historians, archivists, anthropologists, artists, curators and, in general, professionals whose activity is closely related to the archives of environmentalism, to present their experiences and share their methodologies and work proposals. Researchers and archivists at an early stage of their career are especially encouraged to participate.

Proposals can be related to the following topics: Environmental History, Archival Methodologies, Grassroots Memory and Ecology, Situated Ecologism (located in specific territories and chronologies), Ways of activating/disseminating the archive, Environmental Corruption, Toxicity, Energy, Territorial Defense, etc.

One of the fundamental objectives of the meeting is to develop a methodology of collective curatorship around one or more subjects that have played a leading role in the history of environmental activism at an international level. In order to do so, an online space will be set up to share documents and materials on this common history. Some suggested topic are: anti-nuclear movement, fight against asbestos, air pollution or pesticides, agroecology, cleaner production or renewal energy.  Along with the proposals for participation, please provide ideas or preferences of the materials on which you want to work or you could provide documents (digital reproductions).

The deadline for submitting an abstract of 300 words (maximum), a biography of 100 words (maximum) and a thematic proposal/preference for the collective curatorial process is March 31, 2023. The submission will be made through this form and during the first week of April the candidates will receive an affirmative or negative answer about their proposal.

The format of the interventions will be detailed after the selection of the proposals.

Funding: The organization can provide funding for a limited group of proposals. More information will be offered after the selection process.

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:

  • Ethical dimensions of temporality in the collections and archives
  • Historical inquiry into collections as traces of violence and expropriation, and how collecting as an extractivist practice can relate to a legacy of colonialism and exacerbated accumulation
  • Ethics and politics of keeping and losing objects
  • Morality of accumulation and the challenges of (not) acquiring collections
  • The moral economy of collections and collecting beyond the extractivist paradigm (e.g. through practices of solidarity and exchange)
  • Studies focusing on the imaginaries of management and control in the collection and earth archive as well as the ways in which they might become contested and destabilized
  • How emerging unknowns associated with collections activate traces in unexpected ways
  • Ethics of maintaining collection infrastructure in terms of sustainability as well as societal and scientific role of collections
  • Novel, ethically-informed research approaches for tracing, using and caring for collections
  • Perspectives on the temporality and history of collections that activate their potential for ethical, non-extractive knowledge production


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.

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

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