Collection Ecologies

Collection Ecologies intersects history and philosophy of science with the history of natural historical and medical collections, and environmental history. The concept of ecology offers new pathways into the history of collections, both to understand how collections can serve as archives and knowledge repositories in the history of the environment, but also by developing a reflection on collections as ecologies themselves. Reflecting on collections as ecologies in themselves enables the group to open up disciplinary boundaries in order to reassess the value, stabilization, transfer, loss, and transformational potential of bio-cultural collections to create new transdisciplinary methodologies. The sessions will consider the following questions as a starting point  - but not limited to this list-such as: how are museums, collections and affiliated infrastructures reimaging and configuring environments – virtually, digitally, and physically? What tensions arise from collecting, displaying, and reconstructing natural things that have shaped and continued to shape environments? Reversely, how have conceptions of the environment shaped the reconstruction of the natural things ex-situ, in museums? How can we think together about how materiality and practices intertwine and impact knowledge in times of environmental change?

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Upcoming Meetings

  • Thursday, December 14, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST

    "Cameroon in Berlin. A collaborative assessment of collections and archives from the mammal collections in the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin"
    with Paul Taku Bisong, MSc in Evolution, Ecology and Systematics from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany, with a dissertation entitled "The Batanga Expedition in German 'Kamerun' (1887): The Role of the first 'Kolonialzoologe' Bernhard Weissenborn." He is the author of an assessment on the type material from "Kamerun" in the mammal collection of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.
    and Catarina Madruga, postdoc researcher working on provenance research methods specific to colonial natural history collections; the connections between epistemologies of nature and the history of environment, empire, and zoological collections; and the political meanings of scientific localities in zoological catalogues and online repositories. 
    Cameroon in Berlin is a case study for the development of decolonial methods to assess information on natural history collections, their associated collection management systems, archival materials and library resources. Instead of looking at a particular animal genus or species, or of taking a biographical approach, we used the colonial political unit of German “Kamerun” as the entry point to assess the collections in the mammal department, I - Collections, and the historical archive, II - Archives, of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (MfN).
    Cameroon in Berlin I. Collections is the report by Paul Taku Bisong detailing the work of the assessment of the specimens in the mammal collections of the MfN that were tagged in the digital databank as both with having information under the category “type status” and with reference of geographical collecting location as “Kamerun.” The available databank information was checked and enhanced with use of the manuscript accession catalogue, remaining inscriptions and labels, and other available publications and historical documentation. The result is a list of 91 specimens, with enhanced metadata, of different 31 described mammal species.
    The 12 valid and available type-specimens were published in open access, with a discussion of the relevance of this work:
    Cameroon in Berlin II. Archives, lists the thus-far identified archival materials relating to the historical collections of the Zoological Museum of Berlin, with reference to manuscript catalogues and inventories, of type-localities and of suppliers involved in the shipment of specimens from the territories of German "Kamerun." To complement this, we added a list of identified suppliers and of the localities of shipments that were identified as including type-specimens. In order to be able to discuss real “access” to these documents, we describe and de-codify as much as possible of the underlying contexts of extraction, display, and management of zoological collections. We hope other researchers will find this provisional assessment of the materials useful, especially those interested in the dislocation of people and nature from the geographical collecting to this particular configuration of Cameroon in Berlin.

  • Thursday, January 11, 2024 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST


  • Thursday, February 8, 2024 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST


  • Thursday, March 14, 2024 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT


  • Thursday, April 11, 2024 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT


  • Thursday, May 9, 2024 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT


  • Thursday, June 13, 2024 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT

    Katherine Arnold, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU München 

    Title: TBA
    Abstract: TBA

Past Meetings

  • November 9, 2023

    “Field/Work in the Archive: Herbaria as Sites of Cultural Exchange”
    with Martha Fleming
    Museologist, historian of science and of collections, Associate Professor, Natural History Museum of Denmark
    Abstract: Martha Fleming will discuss the aims, research methods, and preliminary findings of the project of the same title for which she is the Principal Investigator.  Field/Work investigates the global cultural historical value of elements of the dried plant collection of 'Herbarium C' -- the Danish national herbarium held at the Natural History Museum of Denmark.  Significant elements of the collection are colonial in nature, and the project thus aims to conjoin history of science, history of collections, collections-based research, and global and colonial histories.
    Bio: Martha Fleming is a museologist, an historian of collections, and an historian of science with a particular focus on natural historical and correlative scientific collections and archives. Her current research investigates the creation and management of natural history collections as significant forms of knowledge producing practices embedded in globalised colonial contexts.  Fleming was instrumental in the creation of the Centre for Arts and Humanities Research at London’s Natural History Museum (2009-2011), a research centre that has since been held up as a model internationally for the productive integration of the methods and rigour of humanities and social science disciplines into life science research contexts.

  • October 12, 2023

    Conveners’ introduction : “Introducing the Collection Ecologies Working Group”
    with Catarina Madruga
    Historian of zoological collections Centre for Humanities of Nature, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
    Nuala  P. Caomhanach
    Historian of  science, evolutionary biologist and doctoral candidate, New York University & American Museum of Natural History
    Déborah Dubald
    Historian of science and health, lecturer at the University of Strasbourg
    Dominik Hünniger
    Historian of museums, natural history and the environment, curator for innovation research, German Port Museum Hamburg

    Abstract: This session will introduce the aims and methods of the Collection Ecologies collective so far. Following a brief presentation by Dominik Hünniger, founder of the collective, any member of the working group will be invited to present an image, an object or a collection and how it resonates with the “Collection Ecologies”.
    Note : please bring an object, image or a collection for a 2 minute presentation!

Group Conveners

  • ncaomhanach's picture

    Nuala Caomhanach

    Nuala Caomhánach is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of History at New York University and the Invertebrate Zoology Department at the American Museum of Natural History. Her dissertation examines the relationship between scientific knowledge, climate change, and conservation law in Madagascar. She illuminates how changes in the botanical sciences of ecology and phylogenetics have affected conservation ideology, policy, and practice. She is a contributing editor at the Journal of the History of Ideas Blog both inviting and editing article submissions, and writing blog posts. She contributes to the Journal of the History of Ideas's Broadly Speaking Series. She co-produces the Not That Kind of Doctor podcast with Dr. Grace East. The podcast invites PhD students and early career scholars to discuss their research in an informal manner.


  • ddubald's picture

    Deborah Dubald

    Déborah Dubald is an incoming Lecturer in the History of science and health at the University of Strasbourg, with a specialty in the history of material cultures of nature, science and health.
    She holds a PhD in History from the European University Institute in Florence (2019), entitled “Capital Nature: a History of French Municipal Museums of Natural History, 1795-1870”, ( for which she won the James Kaye Memorial Prize in 2020.
    She is a member of the CollectionEcologies collective, with whom she examines relations between history of collections, material cultures of nature and science, and environmental history.
    She recently co-edited with Catarina Madruga (Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin) a special issue for the Journal of History of Knowledge It was published at the end of 2022 and is entitled “Situated Nature: Field collecting and local knowledge in the nineteenth century” (
    Her current research is split between the writing of her first book on the French natural history museums in 19th century France, and a new project on the uses of medical collections, especially human remains but not exclusively, in academic (research and teaching) practices from 19th to 21st century.


  • CatMadruga's picture

    Catarina Madruga

    Postdoc researcher on the project "Colonial Provenances of Nature. The expansion of the mammal collection at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin,  around 1900" funded by the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste (German Lost Art Foundation), and hosted at the Humanities for Nature Department at the Museum für Naturkunde, Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung, Berlin.

    Historian of Science and Empire & self-proclaimed Museum-Person, 
    Catarina Madruga defended her PhD in the University of Lisbon titled "Taxonomy & Empire. Zoogeographical knowledge on Portuguese Africa, 1862-1881" in 2020.
    Her research for the last decade focused on the zoological collections shipped from African territories and studied in the Lisbon Zoological Museum of the Escola Politécnica de Lisboa, under the direction of José Vicente Barbosa du Bocage (1823-1907), and on the study of Bocage's correspondence and scientific networks. She has previous training in Museum Studies and experience in Exhibition Design and Museum Education.  


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