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.

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

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