Click the star to add/remove an item to/from your individual schedule.
You need to be logged in to avail of this functionality.

Accepted Contribution:

Rot as relation: reconsidering preservation in natural history collections  
Elaina Foley (Museum für Naturkunde)

Short abstract:

Within the intertwined projects of preservation and accumulation which (re)produce the natural history museum’s collection, an ecology emerges. This paper proposes thinking with multiple forms of decay as actors that challenge normative ideas of ecology and knowledge within the collections.

Long abstract:

Within the natural history museum, specimen collections are imagined to embody an economic asset, an ontological representation, and a future knowledge potential. These meanings and materials must be continually re-produced through preservation efforts, or else succumb to decay. Thus, institutional actors’ and infrastructural responses to rot are revealing, not just in ascertaining the stakes of institutional preservation, but in laying bare specimens’ ongoing ontological and relational situatedness. This paper seeks to integrate experience from material care of collections and the poetics of relation-building with dead nonhuman beings, in order to push the bounds of questions asked of “specimens” and those who work with them. By refusing to situate myself within only one way of knowing and relating to specimens, I draw on anti-colonial, feminist STS and queer theory in conjunction with direct experience at the Smithsonian Herbarium, Museum für Naturkunde, and Yale Peabody Museum in order to express felt ecologies of being-with collections that are in uneasy relation to "scientific" knowledge.

This paper considers how preservation research and maintenance projects undergird institutionally situated relationships with nonhuman specimens, while suggesting that their political dimensions might reveal rot as a “life-affirming process” in the context of museums’ deathly nature (Jones and Lyons, 2021). In this context, rot can be seen as a material-ontological process which has the potential to evade and frustrate colonial processes of knowledge accumulation—giving way to new ecologies of relation.

Combined Format Open Panel P380
Knowledges of ecology and ecologies of knowledge
  Session 2 Friday 19 July, 2024, -