Knowing Things. Circulations and Transitions of Objects in Natural History - Berlin, 23-24 March 2015


International Conference at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, Germany

March 23rd - 24th, 2015

With this call for papers we invite researchers and young scholars from different fields - including, but not limited to, the history and theory of collections, museum studies, cultural history, art history and aesthetics - to present exemplary moments of transition in the history of natural specimens and to explore the impact of spatial and disciplinary mobility on the history and theory of natural history objects.

The goal of this conference is to contribute to the history and theory of these Wissensdinge (Objects of Knowledge) by reconstructing historical transitions and threshold areas within their institutional contexts, the collection and the museum. Can we identify different phases in the mobility of things of knowledge? How do various spaces of knowledge, such as the laboratory, the collection and the exhibition, influence the ways of handling natural history objects? How do meanings attributed to these objects vary in different contexts? Rather than constructing a "biography" oriented towards the life cycle of the object, should we not instead be telling a history of fractures and shifts? Finally, to what extent does an expanded, multidisciplinary approach impact the use, meaning and presentation of Wissensdinge?

The focus of the conference will be on case studies. These will provide the basis for exploring the degree to which this fundamental characteristic of Wissensdinge - their mobility - can serve as a point of departure for better understanding natural history objects. Using the history of tangible objects within their institutional framework, we want to examine the extent to which Wissensdinge are shaped, not only by their materiality, but rather by their migration through diverse realms of knowledge, through technical settings, and through scientific, political, as well as cultural discourses. Furthermore, we want to ask how these settings and discourses are in turn shaped by things of knowledge. The conference will focus on the time period between the mid-19th century and the present.

The conference is organized by the research department PAN - Perspectives on Nature (Perspektiven auf Natur), Museum für Naturkunde Berlin in cooperation with the scientific collections of the Humboldt-Universität and with the base project "Mobile Objects" in the Cluster of Excellence "Image Knowledge Gestaltung. An interdisciplinary Laboratory".

The event will take place from March 23rd to 24th, 2015 at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin. The conference will be held in English. Please include in the application an abstract (max. 500 words) and a short CV. The deadline for submission is December 1st, 2014.

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