WP1: Natural History After Natural History

WP1 Leader: Helge Jordheim

This first WP deals primarily with the historical and theoretical framework, in other words, with preconditions for writing a natural history of the present, or with a different turn of phrase, natural history after natural history. In this WP we will deal with how different chronologies – bio-, geo-, and cosmo- – have come to be contained within different scholarly disciplines and genres and thus how the rise of the modern order of knowledge created a set of almost unbreakable nexuses between forms of time and forms of knowledge, institutionalized in the modern disciplines of geology, biology, and cosmology, on the one hand, history, philology, and anthropology, on the other.

In order to understand these close connections between disciplinarity and time scales the WP will do three things.

1) First, it will investigate how lifetimes and historical times became contained and entangled in the set of discourses, genres, concepts and practices that in Early Modern Europe went under the name of natural history, and which together with natural philosophy and moral philosophy organized every kind of knowledge about the outer world. In reading works by Comte de Buffon (Histoire Naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roi, published mainly between 1749 and 1788, in 36 volumes), Erik Pontoppidan (Det første Forsøg på Norges Naturlige Historie, 1752), and others, we will map out how different time scales are adjusted, adapted and mapped onto each other and how they come in and out of sync.

2) Second, the WP will trace the “afterlives” (Cave 2011) of natural history, both as a concept, as a genre, and as a set of scholarly practices, to explore how it continues to challenge the increasingly institutionalized nexus of time scale and discipline, from the late 18th century onwards, in works by Johann Gottfried Herder (Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit, 1784-1791), Henrich Steffens (Beyträge zur innern Naturgeschichte der Erde, 1801), and later Fernand Braudel (La Méditerranée, 1949), W.G. Sebald (On the Natural History of Destruction, 1999) and Manuel Delanda (Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, 2000).

3) Third, the WP will study which forms of natural history were exported to other languages and orders of knowledge, such as the Ottoman, and how it was used to entangle and disentangle various time scales, for instance in the works of Ibn Khaldun.