MUSTS Colloquium: Book Discussion “Spatializing the History of Ecology: Sites, Journeys, Mappings”

May 23, 2018, 15:30-17:00, GG 80-82, Attic


Discussing “Spatializing the History of Ecology: Sites, Journeys, Mappings”


Raf de Bont, Joeri Bruyninckx, Jens Lachmund & Miriam Meissner


This MUSTS meeting will be an Authors-meet-Critics session on Raf de Bont’s and Jens Lachmund’s book Spatializing the History of Ecology: Sites, Journeys, Mappings (Routledge, 2017). Joeri Bruyninckx and Miriam Meissner will act as commentators.


About the book

Throughout its history, the discipline of ecology has always been profoundly entangled with the history of space and place. On the one hand, ecology is a field science that has thrived on the study of concrete spatial entities, such as islands, forests or rivers. These spaces are the workplaces in which ecological phenomena are identified, observed and experimented on. They provide both epistemic opportunities and constraints that structure the agenda and the analytical sensibilities of ecological researchers. On the other hand, ecological knowledge and practices have become important resources through which spaces and places are classified, delineated, explained, experienced and managed. The impact of these activities reaches far beyond the realms of the ecological discipline. Many ecological concepts such as “biotopes,” “ecosystems” and “the biosphere” have become entities that widely resonate in public life and policy making.

This book explores the mutual entanglement between space and knowledge-making in the history of ecology. Its first goal is to explore to which extent a spatial perspective can shed new light on the history of ecological science. Second, it uses ecology as a critical site to gain broader insights into the history of the environment in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Via a series of case studies – discussing topics that range from ecological field stations in the early-twentieth century Caribbean over wisent breeding in Nazi Germany to computer modelling in North American deserts – the book offers a tour through the changing landscapes of modern ecology.


Raf De Bont is a Lecturer at Maastricht University, interested in the history of science and the environment in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has published, amongst others, on the history of evolutionary theory, the spatial logic of field biology and the internationalization of nature protection. His most recent book is Stations in the Field: A History of Place-Based Animal Research, 1870-1930 (Chicago, 2015).

Joeri Bruyninckx is Assistant Professor at the Department of Society Studies of FASoS and (until May 31, 2018) Research Scholar the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. His work engages with the role of the body in knowledge practices in twentieth-century field biology, contemporary experimental sciences, and postwar workspaces such as the office. His book Listening in the Field: Recording and the Science of Birdsong, on the history of sound recording and listening as a scientific practice in field ornithology, has just been published with MIT Press.

Jens Lachmund is a Lecturer in Science and Technology Studies at Maastricht University, the Netherlands. His has published widely on themes of the historical sociology of medicine.  In his  more recent research he has drawn on concepts and methods from the social studies of science to explore the relationship between nature, science, and politics. His books include Greening Berlin. The Co-Production of Science, Politics, and Urban Nature (Boston, 2013). Together with Sven Dierig and Andrew Mendelsohn he is also editor of the volume Science and the City, OSIRIS 18, 2003.

Miriam Meissner is Assistant Professor in Urban Studies at the Department of Literature and Art, Maastricht University. Her research explores the interrelation between cities, creativity, political economy and the environment. In particular, it examines how urban art, media and cultural practices re-mediate and politicize global risks of finance and ecology. Miriam’s book publications include Narrating the Global Financial Crisis: Urban Imaginaries and the Politics of Myth (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and the co-edited volume Global Garbage: Urban Imaginaries of Waste, Excess and Abandonment (Routledge, 2016).