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Sharing places: inter-species relationships

Sharing places: inter-species relationships

Humans share the Australian continent with approximately 570,000 other species. The vast majority of these inhabitants are plants and animals indigenous to the continent or the region, but at least 3000 introduced species have also become established since the beginning of European colonisation.

A man wearing a blue dust coat and a cap stands beside a crowing bantam, in a cage.
Prize-winning bantam breeder Bob Pitt at the Longford Show in Tasmania. Photo: Lannon Harley.

Over time, reflecting different cultural frameworks and economic trajectories, people have formed a wide variety of relationships with various plants and animals. This includes recording them for science, breeding them for profit, eradicating them as pests, planting them as ornaments, growing them for food, conserving them for posterity, admiring their beauty and adopting them as companions.

Recent developments in environmental humanities have aimed to build on studies of how people have interacted with particular environments to consider how they can be understood as embedded in particular ecologies, subject to the agency of non-humans as much as exerting their own (Bird Rose 2011, Griffiths 2001, Plumwood 2012).

This research priority explores how material culture records and illuminates the histories of human relationships with non-human species.

A particular focus is on how non-human lives are embodied in museum collections. Museums have historically collected plants and animals through the practice of natural history (Farber 2000) within a framework that reduces individuals to ‘specimens’ – as exemplars of the physical characteristics of their species, their evolutionary histories and their environmental niches – much as Indigenous Australians were once constructed through anthropological collections as examples of an unchanging traditional culture. However, if non-human species are considered as having agency and individuality that relates to their physical bodies, this approach might re-signify collections and open up new avenues for museums.

Sharing places is linked to current and proposed projects including:

The Sharing places research priority is also linked to the projected re-development of the Old New Land gallery.

Key research questions

  • How have cultural, ecological and affective relationships between humans and non-humans, as species and/or individuals, been conceptualised, constructed and practised in Australia?
  • How have Australian places and lives been shaped, understood and experienced through particular human and non-human relationships and interactions?
  • How can non-human agency be conceptualised and how can it be represented by or embodied in museum collections, including objects collected in the natural history mode?

Select references

Bird Rose, Deborah, Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 2011.

Farber, Paul Lawrence, Finding Order in Nature: The Naturalist Tradition from Linnaeus to EO Wilson, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2000.

Griffiths, Tom, Forests of Ash: An environmental history, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Ingold, Tim, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, Routledge, London and New York, 2011.

Plumwood, Val, The Eye of the Crocodile, ANU E Press, Canberra, edited by Lorraine Shannon, 2012.