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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


11–12 June 2024

The Challenge of Conservation conference explores how political commitments and material constraints interact in the practices of conservation across a wide variety of disciplines. In recent years, attention to political upheavals, global inequities and human-made climate change have revealed the immense complexity of the conservationist project of either preserving the status quo or restoring it to an earlier, potentially better state. Scholars have examined in detail the immense challenges of determining what objects, regions, species, peoples, and ways of life should be preserved in an era of competing political interests with highly divergent preferences. At the same time, the conservationist discourse remains highly fragmented across disciplinary faultlines. This conference aims to enhance conversations between the disciplines of history and philosophy of science and medicine, archaeology, art history, ecology, the environmental sciences, geography and museum studies to shed new light on how ideological commitments and technical solutions travel between these different fields.



Tuesday 11 June

08.30 – 09.00: Coffee and breakfast

09.00 – 09.30: Introduction

09.30 – 12.00: Conservation in Nigeria: The Bakor Monoliths and the Igbo Ukwu Projects
(Coffee break between 10.30 and 11.00)

Roundtable with talks by Kingsley Daraojimba (Cambridge Archaeology), Abu Edet (University of Calabar History and International Studies), Ivor Miller (University of Calabar History and International Studies), Ferdy Saumarez-Smith (Factum Foundation, UK), Simon Schaffer (Cambridge HPS).

12.00 – 13.30: Lunch and Whipple visit with Josh Nall

13.30 – 15.00: Conservation in the Museum: The Constraints and Connections of Materials

Spike Bucklow (Cambridge Hamilton Kerr Institute). The two conservations.

Stephanie de Roemer (University of Cambridge Museums). Conservation in museums: A seismology of care for our cultural heritage.

Adele Wright-Miller (Cambridge History). Preservation of material culture in Vanuatu: Destruction, decay, absence and restoration in the early twentieth century.

15.00 – 15.30: Coffee

15.30 – 17.00: State-Building and State Conservation

Patrick Anthony (University College Dublin History). Caucasian beech, Kazakh poplar, and the construction of colonial nature.

Hitesh Pant (Cambridge HPS). The psychosis of 'development': Historicising the struggles for agricultural modernisation and crop diversity in Nepal.

Rafael Barrio de Mendoza Zevallos (Cambridge Sociology). 'Recruiting the ocean to do the job'. Elusive toxicities and precarious collectifs in 2022 Repsol La Pampilla oil spill management.


Wednesday 12 June

09.00 – 09.30: Breakfast

09.30 – 11.00:  Maan Barua's Plantation Worlds

A roundtable around Maan Barua's forthcoming book with Liana Chua (Cambridge Anthropology), Daniel Margocsy (Cambridge HPS), Sujit Sivasundaram (Cambridge History) and Samita Sen (Cambridge History).

11.00 – 11.30: Coffee

11.30 – 13.00: Conservation in Southeast Asia: Preserving Nature, Culture and Humankind

Adam Bobbette (Glasgow Geographical and Earth Sciences). Stones on the move: The politics of repatriation, geology, and earthly cosmologies from Indonesia.

Hélène Njoto (EFEO Jakarta). Letting go of the adze? Navigating the conservation of fluid carpentry traditions in Ambon, Maluku (Indonesia).

Clive Oppenheimer (Cambridge Geography). Volcanoes: hazard and heritage.

13.00 – 14.00: Lunch

14.00 – 15.30: Conserving the World, Conserving Media: The Platforms of Representation

Miles Kempton (Cambridge HPS). Celluloid conservation: Endangered species and a fragile medium.

Silvia Marchiori (Cambridge HPS). Diseased textual bodies, anatomophilologists, and shared conservation strategies in eighteenth-century medicine and philology.

Brian Castriota and Helia Marcal (UCL History of Art). On the ethics of retreat-ability, for and with the world.

15.30 – 16.00: Coffee

16.00 – 17.30: Conserving Health, Plants and Forests

Leo Chu (Cambridge HPS). From parks to terraces: Forestry, soil conservation, and indigenous land rights in colonial and Cold War Taiwan, 1930–60.

Ma. Mercedes G. Planta (University of the Philippines – Diliman History). TBD.

J'Nese Williams (Wake Forest University History). Conservation for what?: Colonial botanic gardens and debates about preserving plants in the British Empire.

Image: / Meduzanol