Knowing Things.

Circulations and Transitions of Objects in Natural History

International Conference, 23rd-24th March 2015 in Berlin

Download the PROGRAMME here (or scroll further down).

There is a CONFERENCE REVIEW available in German.

Venue: Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur, Invalidenstraße 44, 10115 Berlin, next door to the Museum für Naturkunde

The conference was part of the research project “Things of Knowledge. Stories from the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin”. It was conceptualised and organised by PAN – Perspektiven auf Natur, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, in cooperation with the Scientific Collections of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Cluster of Excellence Image Knowledge Gestaltung of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. It was funded by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung.

The goal of this conference was to contribute to the history and theory of Wissensdinge by reconstructing historical transitions and threshold areas within their institutional contexts, the collection and the museum. Can we identify different phases in the mobility of things of knowledge?  How do various spaces of knowledge, such as the laboratory, the collection and the exhibition, influence the ways of handling natural history objects? How do meanings attributed to these objects vary in different contexts? Rather than constructing a “biography” oriented towards the life cycle of the object, should we not instead be telling a history of fractures and shifts? Finally, to what extent does an expanded, multidisciplinary approach impact the use, meaning and presentation of Wissensdinge?

The focus of the conference was on case studies. These provided the basis for exploring the degree to which this fundamental characteristic of Wissensdinge – their mobility – can serve as a point of departure for better understanding natural history objects. Using the history of tangible objects within their institutional framework, we wanted to examine the extent to which Wissensdinge are shaped, not only by their materiality, but rather by their migration through diverse realms of knowledge, through technical settings, and through scientific, political, as well as cultural discourses. Furthermore, we wanted to ask how these settings and discourses were in turn shaped by things of knowledge. The conference focused on the time period between the mid-19th century and the present.

The conference was held in English.

More details: Knowing Things_CfP (scroll down for English)

Any questions? Mail to



Monday, 23rd March 2015

From 9:00 Registration

10:00–11:30 Introduction
10:00 Welcome Address
Anita Hermannstädter, Ina Heumann, Kerstin Pannhorst
PAN – Perspektiven auf Natur, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

10:30 Keynote Lecture
Changing Natures: Temporal Scale in the Life of the Museum and its Objects
Lynn K. Nyhart, University of Wisconsin


11:40–13:00 Mobile Objects
Moderator: Jochen Hennig, Scientific Collections of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

 11:40 Mobilising and Immobilising Aquatic Life in the Museum
Christian Reiß, Universität Regensburg, and Mareike Vennen, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar

 12:20 Mobilities and Moorings: Following the Challenger Expedition beyond the Sea
Erika Jones, University College London

Lunch Break

14:00–15:20 Global Objects I
Moderator: Staffan Müller-Wille, University of Exeter

14:00 Two Rhinoceroses from the Ordos Desert: Movement and Blockages of Objects in the Early-Twentieth Century
Chris Manias, University of Manchester

 14:40 Schomburgk’s Chook: Reconstructing the Settler-colonial Past of Berlin’s Malleefowl
Anja Schwarz, Universität Potsdam

15:20–16:20 Poster Session

A Leaf’s Mobility: Epistemic Object, Technical Agent, Medium
Gianenrico Bernasconi, Universität Zürich

The “Failed” Transfer of Natural History Collections
David Felismino, Universidade Nova de Lisboa

Modern Deep Times: The Story of Brachiosaurus Brancai
Ina Heumann, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, and Holger Stoecker, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Tableaux Vivants: Reflections on the Movements between Things
Verena Kuni, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt a. M.

A Travelling Whale in Barcelona: From Popular Entertainment to Scientific Instruction
Laura Valls, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona


16:20–17:00 Global Objects II
16:20 Modern Fossils: Industrial Drill Cores
Benjamin Steininger, Science Communications Research e.V., Vienna

17:00–18:30 Special Opening of the Exhibition, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
Invalidenstr. 43, 10115 Berlin

From 18:30 Get together at the Museum

Tuesday, 24th March 2015

9:30–10:00 Introduction
Barbara Göbel, Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, and Anke te Heesen, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

10:00–13:00 Public Objects
Moderators: Leonore Scholze-Irrlitz, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Christian Vogel, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

10:00 Exhibiting Art with Manchester Museum’s Coral Collection
Marion Endt-Jones, University of Manchester

10:40 The Hydrarchos Craze and the Decline and Fall of Commercial Natural History
Lukas Rieppel, Brown University, Providence


11:40 Avi, Alive and Dead. The Two Careers of Barcelona’s Emblematic Elephant
Oliver Hochadel, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Barcelona

12:20 Plaster Diplomacy: When Dinosaurs Reshaped Natural History Museums
Ilja Nieuwland, Huygens ING KNAW and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Lunch Break

14:00–15:20 Unique Masses
Moderator: Patricia Rahemipour, Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem, Freie Universität Berlin

14:00 Mobile Stones: Knowing Objects in the Earth Sciences
Hannah-Lee Chalk, University of Manchester

14:40 A Flood of Insects: H. Sauter’s Formosa Collection
Kerstin Pannhorst, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin


15:40–17:00 Disappearing Objects
Moderator: Margarete Vöhringer, Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin

15:40 Natural History Collections in Brazil: Redefinition and Disposal in Pernambuco State
Emanuela Sousa Ribeiro, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife

16:20 Wrecking a Whale: The Twilight Lives of Museum Objects
Michael Rossi, University of Chicago

17:00–18:00 Final Discussion
Comments: Barbara Göbel, Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, and Anke te Heesen, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


The venue is located right next to the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin:
Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur
Invalidenstraße 44, 10115 Berlin


Concept / Organization:

PAN – Perspectives on Nature
Museum für Naturkunde
Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung
Invalidenstraße 43
10115 Berlin

More information:

Kerstin Pannhorst
Tel.: +49 (0)30 2093 8957
Fax: +49 (0)30 2093 8814

Download the conference PROGRAMME here.