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The Afterlives of Natural History

What is natural history? Investigating the entanglement of natural and humanist knowledge, historically and today.

An illustration from an old research journal depicting three children playing on a beach, one carrying a fish.

Investigating the role of natural history as an interdisciplinary framework in the face of climate change. Illustration: From the natural history journal "Det Trondheimske Selskabs Skrifter, Tredie Deel, Kiøbenhavn", 1765.

About the project

The climate crisis, species extinction, and plastic filling up the oceans are some of the challenges facing academic scholarship at the present moment. To meet these challenges we need to think across different disciplines.

Keywords are inter-, cross-, or trans-disciplinarity. Another keyword is natural history. The project "The Afterlives of Natural History" investigates how natural history can help us understand how humans change and are changed by and with nature. The heritage or afterlife of natural history becomes relevant as a foundation for dialogue between academic disciplines.

In the long term, this project wants to inspire and help institutionalize interdisciplinary work based on historical materials such as journals, books, pictures, lists, objects and tools. This process has the potential of reforming and updating how the natural sciences approach the relevance of history for understanding nature, and vice versa, how the humanities assess the relevance of nature for understanding history.

"The Afterlives of Natural History" will build on humanities-based laboratories, which will be meeting places for texts, objects, researchers and the public.

Project goals

  • To document the “afterlives of natural history” after its alleged demise at the beginning of the 19th century, by identifying and exploring original and innovative contributions to the history of knowledge: topography, natural philosophy, natural history museums, and critical theory.
  • To analyze these knowledge configurations and institutions by means of state-of-the-art theories in order to reveal the practices, such as methods, procedures, concepts, tools, and networks, that brought them about and sustained them.
  • To implement these practices and methods, innovatively and creatively in new teaching methods and in the production of exhibitions and databases, in order to engage with the challenges often framed by the concept of the Anthropocene.
  • To use findings from our investigations as vantage points for experimenting with interdisciplinarity.

Full project description (PDF)


The Research Council of Norway



01.12.2021 - 30.11.2025

Published Oct. 25, 2021 12:52 PM - Last modified Feb. 21, 2022 1:16 PM