Material Histories

We define Material History as a story about a generally known substance. A story about this substance is told in such a way that not only its qualities but also its previous and/or succeeding history are described. Previous history means on the one hand the description of the different stations the substance passed before it has reached the consumer, and on the other hand the description of the use and valuation of the substance in a historical context. The succeeding history describes the stations the substance heads for after it passed our world. Material histories can be told via different media, such as film, text (novel, essay, specialised book) or as a picture story etc. The presentation of Material Histories does not have a defined (e.g. lexical) schema. It can include fictional elements, but it is generally assigned to non-fictional literature. Material Histories are not for experts in their field but are written for a wide audience and, at least intend to, be entertaining. Often Material Histories want to throw light on something, e.g. tracing the working conditions, where a substance's mining takes place or about ecological side effects, and sometimes its aim is to celebrate the mentioned substance.

In the perspective of some natural sciences, substances appear as faceless aggregates of atoms and molecules. Only in newer times the continuous historicity of the substances has moved into view. This historicity is on the one hand scientifically graspable as history about the formation of a unit of a concrete substance that can be mapped out by scientific methods. On the other hand substances are also integrated in processes of the symbolical and material reproduction of a community. Therefore they attract a second kind of historicity. Public consciousness is raised, particularly in environmental-related discussions - recently during the discussion about the origin of the metal Tantal. The concept of Material Histories tries, in a critical discussion with methods based on the philosophy of science and cultural studies and with concepts of social ecology, to articulate precisely this double historicity. Its ambition is to create an innovative framework for a modern interdisciplinary environmental research.

For further information please contact:

Prof. Dr. Armin Reller

Dr. Jens Soentgen