WP1: Natural History After Natural History

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.

WP2: Health and medicine

WP2 studies the emergence and deployment of temporal arrangements in the field of health and medicine, more precisely, how bio-, geo-, and cosmo-chronologies enter into human life and behavior from the point of view of microbes. Microbes have their own time scales and life cycles. They have the power to mutate and recombine relentlessly and are constantly reinventing themselves in response to the antimicrobial treatments that have been developed over the last decades.

1) The first part of WP2 will explore the transformations of bacteria and bacterial ecologies during the 20th century as temporal and spatial events, that is, as biological, historical and cultural processes. Since the 1950s, bacterial populations everywhere, not only in the human body, have been exposed to antibiotics in increasing amounts, changing both the tempo (acceleration) and the mode (horizontal gene transfer) of microbes. In order to target these new microbes, new scientific theories and technologies, diagnostic techniques, surveillance and antibiotics, have been produced: Antibiotic resistance has changed the very science from which it sprung (Landecker 2016), and we will explore these changing transformations during the last 60 years.

2) The second part of WP2 continues the exploration of the time scales of microbes, but now exploring the old and ageing body, in which microbes are assigned the role as both indicators and factors of on-going processes of decay. We will study how microbes have emerged as keys to understanding the temporal arrangement, the durations, speeds, and rhythms of human life, ageing, for short, from the beginning of the 20th century until the current globally disseminated discussions on microbiome diets. Recently, the time scales of microbes have thus become entangled with one of the most significant global challenges of the 21st century: that the population of the world, and especially the Western world, is incessantly ageing. The second part of WP2 will follow the emergence of gerontology as a practice designed to synchronize lifetimes and historical times, or more precisely, microbiotic times with the modern dream of progress (Jordheim, 2017b). 3) The third part of WP2 takes its cue from two observations: firstly, that microbe pandemics can be viewed as global events that have been pervasively mediated throughout the modern period and even before. Second, that these events involve an interrelation of politics, mediations and the biologies of microbes. The medial context will be this subproject’s special emphasis. Its empirical material is culled from coverage in the periodical media of selected international influenza pandemics such as the 1918 “Spanish flu”, the 1958 Asian influenza and the 2009 flu pandemic. These will be analysed with a view to to the events’ historically changing forms and temporal structures. In terms of theory, this subproject builds on a developing strain of media-historical research on events (e.g. Bösch and Schmidt 2010, Ytreberg 2017). It will also draw upon and contribute to an emerging interdisciplinary discourse on interrelationships between the history of media/mediation and various forms of natural science and history (for biology, e.g Parikka 2010; ecology, e.g. Fuller 2007; the natural environment, e.g. Peters 2015).


WP3: Engineering and resource management

This WP overlaps in part with the on-going UiO-funded project Geological Times and New Regimes of Historicity. One PhD-project, in which ethnographic and textual methods are used to study mining on Greenland, more specifically an abandoned cryolite mine, is already underway, supervised by the PI together with a geologist at UiO. Another project, performed by a PD, will start up in August, studying the resource extraction industry, and how Norwegian extraction sites become places of conflict with environmental activists and indigenous critics. In both these projects the entanglement of different time scales and the deployment of various temporal arrangements is at the centre of the investigation. WP3 is designed to strengthen and sharpen these on-going projects, by offering a historical framework and at the same time a counterpoint.

1) The first part of WP3 explores how the mining industry since the 18th century has been a field of knowledge and practice, where different time scales have become entangled and synchronized. Billions of years of geological time have been implemented in the search and extraction of metals and minerals (Rudwick 2005). The location for the study will be the Mining Seminar at Konsberg, Norway, one of the first Mining Seminars in Europe and part of a network of other Mining Seminars in Germany and Eastern Europe. Based on the book collection and lecture plans, the WP will explore how a new temporal arrangement came into being to support and inform the mining industry (Berg, 2011).

2) However, mining is not the only engineering practice which deals with the longue duree of landscape and geological formations. For the second part, WP3 asks how the entanglement of time scales and the emergence of new temporal arrangements changes if the engineering practices in question are not involved in removing land masses to discover metals and minerals, but, on the contrary, in amassing them in order to produce new land. Land reclamation takes place on all four major continents, and has a long history (Van de Ven, 1994). In this process the long durée of the landscape is subjected to the decision- and action-driven time of politics.

WP4: Politics and Government

As Kari Palonen and others have pointed out, politics is to a large extent a struggle with time (Palonen 2006). But whereas studies of politics have concentrated on parliamentary rhythms and election cycles, this project will study how other time scales come to bear on the field of politics. The Lifetimes project builds on the idea that all temporal arrangements have political effects and become the object of political decision and action. In WP5, we study how entanglements between different time scales give rise to temporal arrangements specific to the field of poltics and government. Whereas the focus of WP2 were microbes, the focus of WP5 is the body, scaling up from the individual body of the ruler to the collective body of the dynasty to the body politic.

1) The first part of WP1 focuses on how the fate of the bodies of state leaders, both their biological frailty and their assumed connectedness with cosmological time scales, in terms of signs from the heavens, has severe consequences for the perceived health of the state. More precisely, this part of WP1 will investigate how the theory of “the king’s two bodies”, discovered by Ernst Kantorowicz in the Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Kantorowicz 2016), continue to be in operation both inside and outside Europe, hence introducing the biological time scale of birth, ageing and death into the practices of government (Neocleous 2001), challenging other rythms like elections cycles and parliamentary schedules.

(2) In the second part we scale up to the level of dynasties, which have little or no role in the political thinking of modernity, but nevertheless continue to impose a, less-future-oriented, more circular temporal arrangement, onto the dream of modernization and progress. Emphasis will be on the Ottoman dynasty, but also how dynastic times live on in present-day Turkey. The cycle is not only historical and political, but also tied to cosmology in the form of astrology, with the firmament exerting agency upon the dynast and the polity alike, thus tying the three time scales together in the body of the Sultan. 3) For the investigation of the body politic we will turn to a piece of historiography, the Austrian Orientalist Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall’s Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches (1833), in which biological, geological and cosmological time scales are inscribed in a temporal arrangement, which also includes Western historicist and modernist chronologies as well as the particular dynastic times of the Ottoman empire.

WP5: Lifetimes of Heritage

In both WPs 5 and 6, dealing with heritage and future histories respectively, the temporal arrangements, in which lifetimes become entangled and synchronized, are classified and organized according to their own temporal indexes. Traditionally, heritage classifies the past as something that is sealed off from possible futures, whereas the future histories of science fiction are seen to be disconnected from any past. However, these specific temporal regimes are neither absolute nor stable, but historically contingent arrangements of lifetimes as well as historical events.

This WP takes another starting point: Heritage is no longer understood or practiced as a freezing of memory (Agamben 2007). Today an understanding of nature and culture as entangled and continuously remade (Haraway 2016; Tsing 2015; Barad 2007) has shattered the heritage time-regime and its biological, geological and historical underpinnings. The hesitant establishment of World Heritage mixed sites (nature and culture), the new significance put on indigenous museologies (with their site-specific preservation and valuation techniques, Kreps 2016), as well as repatriation projects where valued heritage objects are left to natural decay (totem-poles brought from museums to natural sites to decay, Björklund 2016), are enabling new conceptions, practices and materializations of heritage. Concurrently climate change is putting heritage protection under enormous pressure, from the melting tundra causing literally frozen heritage to melt to the rapid deterioration of buildings and sites due to changing weather conditions. In this WP, we explore heritage as it materializes bio-geo-cosmo-lifetimes, as well as how its conceptual content oscillates between the frozen and the fluid, the monumental and the vulnerable. Like WP3, this WP also overlaps with the on-going Geological Times-project. One PhD and one PD are in the process of completing projects, in which they explore how natural materials such as oil, rocks and turf contain different time scales in museums and at heritage sites. Further, these natural materials permit theoretical explorations of passages between life and non-life as flexible processes. Turf, for instance, is seen as a materialized process of slow-death where human interference may speed up or slow down the velocity of dying. They investigate to what extent natural materials are brought to life or silenced to death, and which temporal arrangements they exhibit when they are molded as heritage and displayed.

1) In the Lifetimes Project, the first part of WP5 explores how heritage governance and practices negotiate time as climate change forces a radical temporal shift. On the one hand, reactions are determined by an international heritage regime, most notably UNESCO. On the other hand, the negotiations of time and time scales can be studied in their many different enactments in heritage practices within local communities. In particular we are interested in how industrial heritage contributes to negotiations about geological time and resources (cf. WP3), as well as how natural heritage sites are produced as wilderness and “nature”. In these projects biological and geological times seem to be renegotiated as fluid and uncertain, even as vulnerable times.

2) The second part studies cultural and natural heritage in Syria, especially the inscriptions of heritage as discourse in the “aftermath” of crisis evinced by the ongoing destruction. Remnants of partially destroyed physical structures become the battleground for inscribing memory as the true value of human progress, a means to transcend the ephemerality of the biological aggregate first through the semi-permanence of geological substance and second through the permanence of advancing human knowledge. We trace the history and the work of media events at the hands of filmmakers and archivists in moving between different timescales, from the life of the individual, to the life of the body politic, to the life of the ruler, alongside the event of disappearing heritage and permanent cultural loss. This WP thus intersects with the focus on mediality in WP2 and the fissures between ruler and ruled in the timescales of the body politic in WP4.

WP6: Science Fiction and Climate Fiction

 Future histories are a prime fictional container of lifetimes, channeling the three time scales, the bio, the geo, and the cosmo, selectively based on historical exigencies of prognostication (Ghosh 2016). As a subset of science fiction, future history stitches together narrative temporalities of fiction with the possible future temporalities unfolded by means of scientific data and associated thought style (cf. Jameson 2005; Freedman 2000; Csicsery-Ronay Jr., 2008). In Lifetimes, we will explore the branchings of three aspects of future history as they are related to the three time scales. The WP will be structured in two intersecting parts.

1) The first part of WP6 will investigate the genre that is now being termed “cli-fi” (short for climate fiction) but which has had a fertile future historical presence since the 19th century, surviving through conceptual iterations such as disaster fiction, eco-fiction (Dwyer 2010), and recently, “anthropocene fictions” (Trexler 2015). Cli-fi is a prominent genre especially in recent fiction by women (for instance Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, 2003, 2009, 2013). The project will investigate how climate change as a discourse with its inherent futuristic bent constructs the link between human/bio futures and planetary/geo futures, and how these are given shape in cultural representations of possible futures.

2) The second part of this WP will follow two lines of enquiry. The first is how human bodies/body parts and their lifetimes are subsumed in different kinds of extrapolations in the rhythms of social lifetimes such as the nation state or biological management, from early narratives that play with eugenics and social Darwinist themes (for instance Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s Column, 1890, and Gabriel Tarde’s The Underground Man, 1896) to more contemporary works by women authors (such as Manjula Padmanabhan’s Harvest, 1997 and Rimi B. Chatterjee’s Signal Red, 2005). The second line of enquiry is how the human non-human/alien contact and interaction reframes different kinds of time-scales but also itself moves within time, from being a metaphor for European colonial contact with other cultures in the past (cf. Rieder 2008) to the other of technology (represented most directly in androids and robots, but also in the lifetimes of technology itself; cf. Stiegler 1998; Warrick 1980; Haney 2006) and the more sophisticated understandings of cohabitation with other lifeforms in the present day (Vint 2010; Haraway 2015; Bastian 2017). All three aspects in this WP are linked to the three temporalities: the first emphasizes the geological, the second the biological, and the third, through the Janus figure of the alien, the interlink between the biological and the cosmological.

WP7: Quantum: Emergent time scale and temporal arrangements

 In terms of a real-time engagement with the present, WP7 deals with the emergent paradigm that we have identified as “quantum”, including quantum mechanics and quantum information theory, “the most seminal change in viewpoint since the early Greeks gave up mythology.” (Lederman 2011: 33). The product of different fields originating in particle physics in the early 20th century, the quantum is now entering into a phase that is being designated the “second quantum revolution” (Jason Palmer in The Economist, 11 March 2017), where the effects of quantum as a theoretical model are entering into new technological ways of processing nature and dealing with data, such as different kinds of measuring in everyday gps tracking, time tracking, climate science research, cryptography, and the radical epistemological propositions of the multiverse emerging from practical advances in quantum computing (Barad 2007; Deutsch 2011; O’Brien 2016). While natural history after natural history has introduced the idea of scale for inscribing information flow between the human and the non-human worlds, the emergent paradigm of quantum both subsumes and supercedes the question of scale, by reframing historical questions from reality as something that exists to reality as everything that exists and could possibly exist, but which is in permanent state of possibility and flux (Deutsch 2011). Studying this emergent structure is crucial to a project on time in the present, because “time” is itself the first quantum concept: it divides an apparent continuity (the flow of time) into discrete moments. This WP will be in two parts.

1) The first part will deal with the possibilities offered by quantum theory within the discipline of history, both for the practice of history and the writing of it. The WP will explore the larger history of multiple possible worlds (a discussion in which humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and philosophy are already closely interlinked) and their implications for a new model of time, working through its Enlightenment models in Gottfried Leibniz’s theory of time to its present constitutions through the different “Arrow of time” models, the work of Gilles Deleuze, up to the unified model of “constructor theory” proposed by David Deutsch and Chiara Marletto (Deutsch and Marletto 2014). This WP will focus on the entanglement between new technologies in the humanities for analysing historical data at an unprecedented scale (referred to as big data), technologies of measuring and sensing in complex systems (in climate science research; cf. O’Brien 2016), and technologies for creating and processing meaning information out of data (in the field of quantum computing).

2) The second part of the WP deals with another field where quantum has found a home: the field of allohistories and “quantum-fiction” within science fiction. While future histories posit the existence of different possible futures based on the directionality of the present, allohistories, which are also often time travel narratives, posit the whole temporal order and any history or reality dependent on it as permanently in flux, a set of infinite possibles (cf. Nahin 1999; Nahin 2016). Within this construct, time is neither linear nor does it flow in one direction: it is possible to move within time to produce different versions of reality, and it is even possible for these realities to intersect, and conflict with each other. In science fiction, times are held together in “jonbar point”, the point at which small actions split the universe, reality, and future into divergent paths (Westfahl et al, 2002). While a lot of these narratives deal with the effects of quantum by presenting the “multiverse” as an entry point into the “what-ifs,” changing elements of past history to explore alternate possible presents (alternate histories), their real contribution is to offer an expansion in the range of possibles that circumscribe reality.