Arquivo da tag: Museus

O Brasil deveria mudar o modo como lida com a memória da escravidão? (BBC Brasil)

29 outubro 2016

Exposição 'Mãe Preta', no Rio de Janeiro

O Brasil recebeu a maioria dos africanos escravizados enviados às Américas

Uma sala com peças de um navio que levava para o Brasil 500 mulheres, crianças e homens escravizados é a principal atração do novo museu sobre a história dos americanos negros, em Washington.

Numa segunda-feira de outubro, era preciso passar 15 minutos na fila para entrar na sala com objetos do São José – Paquete de África, no subsolo do Museu de História e Cultura Afroamericana.

Inaugurado em setembro pelo Smithsonian Institution, o museu custou o equivalente a R$ 1,7 bilhão se tornou o mais concorrido da capital americana: os ingressos estão esgotados até março de 2017.

Em 1794, o São José deixou a Ilha de Moçambique, no leste africano, carregado de pessoas que seriam vendidas como escravas em São Luís do Maranhão. A embarcação portuguesa naufragou na costa da África do Sul, e 223 cativos morreram.

Visitantes – em sua maioria negros americanos – caminhavam em silêncio pela sala que simula o porão de um navio negreiro, entre lastros de ferro do São José e algemas usadas em outras embarcações (um dos pares, com circunferência menor, era destinado a mulheres ou crianças).

“Tivemos 12 negros que se afogaram voluntariamente e outros que jejuaram até a morte, porque acreditam que quando morrem retornam a seu país e a seus amigos”, diz o capitão de outro navio, em relato afixado na parede.

Prova de existência

Expor peças de um navio negreiro era uma obsessão do diretor do museu, Lonnie Bunch. Em entrevista ao The Washington Post, ele disse ter rodado o mundo atrás dos objetos, “a única prova tangível de que essas pessoas realmente existiram”.

Destroços do São José foram descobertos em 1980, mas só entre 2010 e 2011 pesquisadores localizaram em Lisboa documentos que permitiram identificá-lo. Um acordo entre arqueólogos marinhos sul-africanos e o Smithsonian selou a vinda das peças para Washington.

Museu de História e Cultura Afroamericana

Inaugurado em setembro, o Museu de História e Cultura Afroamericana custou US$ 1,7 bilhão. DIVULGAÇÃO/SMITHSONIAN

Que o destino do São José fosse o Brasil não era coincidência, diz Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, professor emérito da Universidade de Paris Sorbonne e um dos maiores especialistas na história da escravidão transatlântica.

Ele afirma à BBC Brasil que fomos o paradeiro de 43% dos africanos escravizados enviados às Américas, enquanto os Estados Unidos acolheram apenas 0,5%.

Segundo um estudo da Universidade de Emory (EUA), ao longo da escravidão ingressaram nos portos brasileiros 4,8 milhões de africanos, a maior marca entre todos os países do hemisfério.

Esse contingente, oito vezes maior que o número de portugueses que entraram no Brasil até 1850, faz com que Alencastro costume dizer que o Brasil “não é um país de colonização europeia, mas africana e europeia”.

O fluxo de africanos também explica porque o Brasil é o país com mais afrodescendentes fora da África (segundo o IBGE, 53% dos brasileiros se consideram pretos ou pardos).

Por que, então, o Brasil não tem museus ou monumentos sobre a escravidão comparáveis ao novo museu afroamericano de Washington?

Apartheid e pilhagem da África

Para Alencastro, é preciso considerar as diferenças nas formas como Brasil e EUA lidaram com a escravidão e seus desdobramentos.

Ele diz que, nos EUA, houve uma maior exploração de negros nascidos no país, o que acabaria resultando numa “forma radical de racismo legal, de apartheid”.

Crianças brincam no Museu de História e Cultura Afroamericana

Museu virou um dos mais concorridos da capital americana e está com os ingressos esgotados até março. BBC BRASIL / JOÃO FELLET

Até a década de 1960, em partes do EUA, vigoravam leis que segregavam negros e brancos em espaços públicos, ônibus, banheiros e restaurantes. Até 1967, casamentos inter-raciais eram ilegais em alguns Estados americanos.

No Brasil, Alencastro diz que a escravidão “se concentrou muito mais na exploração dos africanos e na pilhagem da África”, embora os brasileiros evitem assumir responsabilidade por esses processos.

Ele afirma que muitos no país culpam os portugueses pela escravidão, mas que brasileiros tiveram um papel central na expansão do tráfico de escravos no Atlântico.

Alencastro conta que o reino do Congo, no oeste da África, foi derrubado em 1665 em batalha ordenada pelo governo da então capitania da Paraíba.

“O pelotão de frente das tropas era formado por mulatos pernambucanos que foram barbarizar na África e derrubar um reino independente”, ele diz.

Vizinha ao Congo, Angola também foi invadida por milicianos do Brasil e passou vários anos sob o domínio de brasileiros, que a tornaram o principal ponto de partida de escravos destinados ao país.

“Essas histórias são muito ocultadas e não aparecem no Brasil”, ele afirma.

Reparações históricas

Para a brasileira Ana Lucia Araújo, professora da Howard University, em Washington, “o Brasil ainda está muito atrás dos EUA” na forma como trata a história da escravidão.

“Aqui (nos EUA) se reconhece que o dinheiro feito nas costas dos escravos ajudou a construir o país, enquanto, no Brasil, há uma negação disso”, ela diz.

Autora de vários estudos sobre a escravidão nas Américas, Araújo afirma que até a ditadura (1964-1985) era forte no Brasil a “ideologia da democracia racial”, segundo a qual brancos e negros conviviam harmonicamente no país.

São recentes no Brasil políticas para atenuar os efeitos da escravidão, como cotas para negros em universidades públicas e a demarcação de territórios quilombolas.

Ferragens usadas em navios negreiros

Expor peças de um navio negreiro era uma obsessão do diretor do museu. DIVULGAÇÃO/SMITHSONIAN

Ela diz que ainda poucos museus no Brasil abordam a escravidão, “e, quando o fazem, se referem à população afrobrasileira de maneira negativa, inferiorizante”.

Segundo a professora, um dos poucos espaços a celebrar a cultura e a história afrobrasileira é o Museu Afro Brasil, em São Paulo, mas a instituição deve sua existência principalmente à iniciativa pessoal de seu fundador, o artista plástico Emanoel Araújo.

E só nos últimos anos o Rio de Janeiro passou a discutir o que fazer com o Cais do Valongo, maior porto receptor de escravos do mundo. Mantido por voluntários por vários anos, o local se tornou neste ano candidato ao posto de Patrimônio da Humanidade na Unesco.

Para a professora, museus e monumentos sobre a escravidão “não melhoram as vidas das pessoas, mas promovem um tipo de reparação simbólica ao fazer com que a história dessas populações seja reconhecida no espaço público”.

Visibilidade e representação

Para o jornalista e pesquisador moçambicano Rogério Ba-Senga, a escravidão e outros pontos da história entre Brasil a África têm pouca visibilidade no país, porque “no Brasil os brancos ainda têm o monopólio da representação social dos negros”.

“Há muitos negros pensando e pesquisando a cultura negra no Brasil, mas o centro decisório ainda é branco”, diz Ba-Senga, que mora em São Paulo desde 2003.

Para ele, o cenário mudará quando negros forem mais numerosos na mídia brasileira – “para que ponham esses assuntos em pauta” – e nos órgãos públicos.

Para Alencastro, mesmo que o Estado brasileiro evite tratar da escravidão, o tema virá à tona por iniciativa de outros grupos.

“Nações africanas que foram pilhadas se tornaram independentes. Há nesses países pessoas estudando o tema e uma imigração potencialmente crescente de africanos para o Brasil”, ele diz.

Em outra frente, o professor afirma que movimentos brasileiros em periferias e grupos quilombolas pressionam para que os assuntos ganhem espaço.

“Há hoje uma desconexão entre a academia e o debate no movimento popular, mas logo, logo tudo vai se juntar, até porque a maioria da população brasileira é afrodescentente. Os negros são maioria aqui.”

Slamming the Anthropocene: Performing climate change in museums (reCollections)

reCollections / Issues / Volume 10 number 1 / Papers / Slamming the Anthropocene

by Libby Robin and Cameron Muir – April 2015

The Anthropocene

Today’s museums are generally expected to use their objects and collections in ways that extend beyond exhibitions. Theatrical events, for example, can provide important complementary activities. This particularly applies to public issues such as climate change and nature conservation, which are often framed in scientific and technical terms. An exhibition is expensive to mount and demands long lead times, but a public program is ‘light on its feet’; it can respond to a topical moment such as a sudden disaster, and it can incorporate new scientific findings where relevant.

One way to make such debates inclusive and non-technical is to explore through performance the cultural and emotional dimensions of living with environmental change. Violent Ends: The Arts of Environmental Anxiety, staged at the National Museum of Australia in 2011,is an example of a one-day event that used art, film and performance to explore anxieties and public concerns about climate change. The event opened with the Chorus of Women, who sang a ‘Lament for Gaia’, and it concluded with ‘Reconciliation’, both works excerpted from The Gifts of the Furies(composed by Glenda Cloughly, 2009).[1] The performance presented  issues that are often rendered as ‘dry science’ in a way that enabled emotional responses to be included in discussions about global warming. A legacy of this event is a ‘web exhibition’ that includes podcasts, recordings and some of the art, including that of a leading Australian environmental artist, Mandy Martin, whose more recent work we discuss further below.[2] The curators of the event, Carolyn Strange (Australian National University), Libby Robin (National Museum of Australia and Australian National University), William L Fox (Director of the Center for Art+Environment, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno) and Tom Griffiths (Director of the Centre for Environmental History, Australian National University), are all scholars  with active partnerships in the arts and the museum sector. Violent Ends explored climate change through a variety of environmental arts. Since 2011, we have seen many comparable programs, in Australia and beyond.

banner image for the Violent Ends website

Thunderstorm over Paestum, after Turner, Wanderers in the Desert of the Real, 2008, used in the banner for the Violent Ends website ©Mandy Martin

In this paper, we review some recent international museum and events-based ideas emerging around the concept of the Anthropocene, the proposition that the Earth has now left the Holocene and entered a new epoch: The Anthropocene (or Age of Humans). The Anthropocene is defined by changes in natural systems that have occurred because of the activities of humans. It is an idea that emerges from earth sciences, but it is also cultural: indeed the geological epoch of the Holocene (the last 11,700 years) marks the period in which most of the world’s major civilisations and cultures have emerged; it includes both the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions. To assert that the planet has moved ‘beyond the Holocene’ is to assert that humanity (indeed all life) has entered a new cultural and physical space that has not been previously experienced. Questions of how humans live in a planet with changed atmosphere, oceans, land systems, cities and climates are moral as well as physical. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has described climate change as the greatest human rights issue of our times.[3]

The Anthropocene epoch is defined by material evidence of human activities that have affected the way biophysical systems work. The stratigraphers (geologists) who decide if the new epoch should be formalised are seeking evidence of human activities in the crust of the earth, in rock strata, as this is the way boundaries between geological eras, epochs and ages have been traditionally defined.[4] Paul Crutzen, a Nobel-Prize-winning atmospheric chemist and the author of the original proposal to name the new epoch the ‘Anthropocene’, has focused on global systems, particularly evidence such as CO2 levels in the atmosphere (showing the burning of fossil fuels) and pH factors in the oceans (showing acidification caused by agricultural outfalls).[5]

Perhaps the most important question is not whether the Holocene has ended but, if it has, how are people (and the cultural systems that have evolved in the Holocene years) to live with such change? The idea of an uncharted new Age of Humans has attracted considerable attention from creative artists, museum curators and scholars in the environmental humanities.[6] Even as the stratigraphers debate the end of the Holocene, global change is upon us, and the creative sector has tackled these questions in its own way. One art and ethnographic museum, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin, hosted the most recent scientific meeting of the International Commission on Stratigraphy in October 2014.[7] HKW, with its mission to represent ‘all the cultures of the world’, recognises that the ‘people’ focus of the Anthropocene demands debate that is both cultural and scientific, and that is concerned with more than just the people of the West. The HKW Anthropocene Project and Anthropocene Curriculum have a strong artistic and museum sector focus, which we discuss further below.[8]

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW)

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin, October 2014 – photograph by Libby Robin

Environmental humanities scholars of the Anthropocene emphasise the questions of justice (and injustice) embedded in planetary changes. Changes to climate, air quality and oceans, and loss of biodiversity are caused by subsets of humans (not all humanity) and their effects are felt by different people, and of course ultimately all life on Earth. The challenge for the humanities is to enable the voices of the people who suffer from the changes, or advocate on behalf of other creatures, to be part of the conversations that contribute to adapting cultural practices in response. People are already living with rapid change: the so-called ‘Great Acceleration’ of changes since the 1950s includes sharp growths in population, wealth and global financial systems, as well as biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, atmospheric carbon dioxide and inequalities between rich and poor.[9] All these changes together are unsettling, yet people are seeking positive, resilient futures in the face of ‘strange change’. This is a debate where the creative sector – design, architecture, museums and humanistic scholarship – is well-poised to make contributions to ideas for living in a changed world of the future. Artists and scientists alike want a broad-based future, not just one that simply ‘reduces the future to climate’, in the apt phrase of Mike Hulme, one of the world’s leading climate scientists.[10]

The Anthropocene is defined by its materiality. The fossil systems that trace its onset and evolution may be buried under layers of rock, lava or sea, as were the traces of earlier epochs. Stratigraphers seeking ‘markers’ for this epoch look for material that might survive the end of an age of Earth. For example, in the case of the mass extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, footprints in the mud and bones remain, even after the collision of the Earth with a huge meteorite. The ‘markers of the era’ are material, and particularly well preserved if the disaster is sudden and buries them (rather than slow and eroding).  University of Leicester geologist Jan Zalasiewicz and his Anthropocene stratigraphy committee are looking for things that might become ‘buried treasure’, surviving as markers of humanity, after humanity is long gone. They are considering various forms of ‘artificial rock’ – bricks and concrete, for example, are long lasting, human-made and in vast quantities. The group is also considering plastics (manufactured polymers) as ideal for forming fossils that would date this epoch as different from all before it.[11]

The materiality of the Anthropocene makes it of interest to museums, but on a very different scale from that considered by the stratigraphers. One of the alternatives to looking for material change in rock strata is to create cabinets of curiosities in our museums, spaces where objects enable conversations about what is strange change. People now have more ‘stuff’ than ever before and there is ever more waste – what does a gyre of plastic the size of a continent floating in the Pacific ocean (‘the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’), say about the Age of Humans?[12] How could it be embodied as an object or set of objects in a Museum? What are the material objects that complement abstract representations of strata, atmospheric chemical analysis, and graphs trending upwards? The challenge for museums and cultural institutions with a stake in valuing objects is to tell their stories well, and to give them rich context. If we are interested in how objects can entertain, inform and inspire, we need to present them as more than mere ‘stuff’.

The slam

In November 2014, the University of Wisconsin hosted an Anthropocene slam, an object-inspired event that brought together artists, filmmakers, scholars and performers at its campus in the state capital, Madison. The university has, since its inception, avowed a commitment to public intellectual life and the community of Wisconsin state. ‘The Wisconsin Idea’, as expressed by the university’s president, Charles Van Hise, in 1904, is quoted today in the words on the wall of the Wisconsin Seminar Room and on a centenary public memorial on the highest hill on the Madison campus: ‘I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the university reaches every home in the state’.

‘The Wisconsin Idea’ centenary public memorial

‘The Wisconsin Idea’ centenary public memorial – photograph by Libby Robin

The Wisconsin Idea expresses an aspiration that university work can inform and enrich the ‘public good’ including cultural institutions. The University of Wisconsin takes as its brief to benefit all the citizens of Wisconsin, not just those who have the privilege to be its students. As well as repaying the investment of the state in its university, the public good aspiration has come to hold strong appeal for the state’s benefactors and donors. The Chazen Art Museum in the University of Wisconsin at Madison combines an outstanding collection of modern art and a strong teaching program in art history, including curatorial education, research and leadership programs.

The Nelson Institute’s Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE) initiative at the university has also used the support of private donors to develop a range of ambitious programs under the banner ‘Environmental futures’. The film festival Tales from Planet Earth, which has since 2007 successfully screened all over Madison and beyond in a range of venues, including Centro Hispano, a community centre serving Madison’s Latino population, has drawn new local audiences to the university’s programs and has helped to increase diversity within the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. In November 2014, the CHE team, Gregg Mitman, William Cronon and Rob Nixon, among others, hosted a new venture, a very different sort of public event, The Anthropocene Slam: A Cabinet of Curiosities.

The ‘slam’ is a concept that originated with poetry, performance and a competitive spirit. The first poetry slam in 1984 was a poetry reading in the Get Me High lounge in Chicago. Poets performed their words and audiences voted with acclamation for the winners. The community audience was essential. The slams were noisy, theatrical and democratic – very different from ‘high art’ poetry recitation. The Anthropocene Slam borrowed the performance and entertainment idea, asking contributors to ‘pitch in a public fishbowl setting’ an object that might represent the Anthropocene in a cabinet of curiosities. From a large field of applicants, 25 objects appeared in five sessions, involving a total of 32 presenters (several objects were presented by teams). The sessions (held across three days from 8-10 November 2014) were grouped into intriguing themes:

  1. nightmares/dreams
  2. Anthropocene fossils
  3. tales and projections
  4. trespass
  5. resistance/persistence.

The aim was to find objects that might help humanity rethink ‘its relationship to time, place, and the agency of things that shape planetary change’.[13] This innovative scholarly method was designed from the start to be inclusive of scientific, artistic and practical ideas, extending what is usually possible in academic settings. One of its public outcomes was the performance event in Madison.

The slam presentations were complemented by a major public lecture from journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, drawing on her bestselling book, The Sixth Extinction.[14] An audience of more than 500 people from all over Wisconsin came out on a chilly night to hear this fluent and well-known communicator of big ideas explain the thesis that the loss of biodiversity today is on a scale equivalent to the mass extinctions evident in geological strata. The last (fifth) mass extinction ended the era of dinosaurs. The slam created a context for this important lecture.[15]

Another aspect of the slam was the building of a travelling cabinet of curiosities,to exhibit the most popular objects and stories, and to take them to local communities. Like the original Wunderkammer from the 16th and 17th centuries, the cabinet created out of the slam is as much a cabinet of conversations and global connections as one of objects.[16] The purpose of the slam was to discover objects that might travel to a cabinet in another context: the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany, the largest science and technology museum in the world. One item from the cabinet even made it to opening night on 4 December 2014 of Willkommen im Anthropozän, the world’s first gallery exhibition of the Anthropocene.[17]

There will be a more formal reception for the cabinet and its objects in July 2015, in an Anthropocene Objects and Environmental Futures workshop, a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin, the Rachel Carson Center at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU), the Deutsches Museum and the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm.[18] The cabinet will also be available to travel elsewhere, including to Sweden, where the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory hosted an international variation on the Tales from Planet Earth film festival in 2014.[19]

The ‘call for objects’ drafted by Gregg Mitman and Rob Nixon was rather different from a standard conference or workshop ‘call’:

We are in the midst of a great reawakening to questions of time – across the spans of geological, ecological, evolutionary, and human history. It is a reawakening precipitated, not by a nostalgia for the past, but by a sense of urgency about the future. The Anthropocene, coined in 2000 by ecologist Eugene Stoermer and popularized by Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, is one of the most resonant examples of how the urgency of the future has prompted scientists, artists, humanities scholars and social scientists to engage creatively with the emerging legacy of our geomorphic and biomorphic powers. The advent of this new scientific object – the Anthropocene – is altering how we conceptualize, imagine and inhabit time. The Anthropocene encourages us to re-envisage (in Nigel Clark’s phrase) future and past relations between ‘earthly volatility and bodily vulnerability’. What images and stories can we create that speak with conceptual richness and emotional energy to our rapidly changing visions of future possibility? For in a world deluged with data, arresting stories and images matter immeasurably, playing a critical role in the making of environmental publics and the shaping of environmental policy.

The Anthropocene is just one among many moments in time when new scientific objects have altered humanity’s relationship to the past, present, and future. The coming-into-being of scientific objects such as fossils, radioactivity, genetic mutations, toxic pesticides, and ice cores, to name a few, have precipitated different narratives and imaginings of the human past and the human future. What might a cabinet of curiosities for the age of the Anthropocene look like? What objects might jolt us into reimagining environmental time across diverse scales, from the recent past to deep history? How might certain kinds of objects make visible the differential impacts – past, present, and future – that have come to shape the relationships among human and non-human beings, living in an era of extreme hydrocarbon extraction, extreme weather events, and extreme economic disparity?

… How is the appearance and impact of homo sapiensas a geomorphic force registered in the sediments of history, the objects around us, and the things yet to be? What emotionally layered Anthropocene objects can surprise, disturb, startle or delight us into new ways of thinking and feeling? What objects speak to resilience or adaptation, to vanishing biota or emerging morphologies?[20]

The cabinet also explored ‘future imaginaries’, both ‘utopian and apocalyptic’, considering the ideas of art and science, literature and film, history and policy. This wider Environmental Futures project opened a transnational and interdisciplinary conversation, with a focus on material objects and on the emotional responses (for example, hopes and fears) that they invoked. The challenge for the objects and their presenters was to:

… comprehend and portray environmental change that occurs imperceptibly and over eons of time – and that inflicts slow violence upon future generations – when media, corporate, and political cultures thrive on the short-term.[21]

Cabinets of curiosities

The Wunderkammer started life in German as a ‘room of wonder’, rather than the English ‘curiosity’. The cabinet of curiosities evoked awe. Rather than evoking rational curiosity, a cabinet should enable enchantment, according to political ecologist Jane Bennett:

Thirteenth-century writer Albertus Magnus described wonder as, like fear, ‘shocked surprise’ … but fear cannot dominate if enchantment is to be … it is a state of interactive fascination, not fall to your knees awe.’[22]

‘Awe’ was a word laden with moral and religious overtones in pre-Enlightenment times. In the 21st century, the objects of a cabinet stir questions about the ‘ethical relevance of human affect’.[23]

The rarity of objects in the era of the Wunderkammer added much to their value. In 1500, the average Middle European household had just 30 objects. By 1900, such households contained 400 objects. The proliferation of objects continued throughout the 20th century, rising to 12,000 objects per household in 2010.[24] The sheer number of objects in modern life changes them: they are no longer precious but rather just ‘stuff’, too many to count or care about. An Anthropocene-era cabinet of curiosities rediscovers objects that can stir wonder, curiosity and care, even for a jaded 21st-century viewer, whose home is burdened with an excess of objects. Each object’s story needs to be evocative, remarkable, perhaps even luminous. Even a prosaic object can carry a big story. This can be assisted by a great ‘pitch’ or performance that breathes life into the story.

When objects have lost their stories and their place in the lives of their owners, they are just stuff. When the stories are remembered and embraced with the object, they stimulate memories and reflection. These can even have clinical value for those suffering from memory loss. Keeping the context of the object simple and clear is often better for stimulating memory than cluttering it with high-tech apps.[25]

Restoring enchantment to objects demands retelling their stories, making individual objects special and important to identity again. The slam was a deliberate strategy to foster engagement and to enliven and reinvigorate objects, to sponsor a ‘sense of play’. It was a technique that could ‘hone sensory receptivity to the marvellous specificity of things’ and, above all, that could ‘resist the story of the disenchantment of modernity’, in Jane Bennett’s words.[26] The challenge of the Anthropocene is its scale. It may seem so large and frightening that it makes people feel they can do nothing about it. The performance event is a strategy for keeping open possibilities for adaptive strategies in the face of rapid change, allowing objects to explore facets of a bigger story in smaller, playful ways.

Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects is one attempt to tell human history ‘from out of Africa to the credit card’. He argues for the levelling power of objects: not all societies have text to tell their stories, but objects may survive to speak from cultures beyond the written word. A history created from objects can include the 95 per cent of human history that is only told in stone. [27] While organic objects cannot survive indefinitely, and fragile objects are more likely to be lost than robust ones, the survival of an object is not just physical: it is also testimony to a cultural context where someone cared enough to protect this object – perhaps in a grave, perhaps in a pocket. Small objects may survive better than large. Edmund de Waal’s imaginative memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes, told through his global family’s netsuke collection, shows just how powerful a small and special object can become. Netsuke are tiny Japanese ceramic, wood and ivory carvings (originally merely a functional addendum that enabled men to carry a tobacco pouch on a kimono). The de Waal collection of netsuke moved through generations and over a century of extraordinary international events, holding the family memories across time and space, and encapsulating his family’s history.[28]

If we follow Neil MacGregor’s notion of a museum as a place that enables ‘the study of things [which] can lead to a truer understanding of the world’[29], then we have a particular new challenge to find the poignancy of objects in a time when there are too many of them. Which objects might enchant audiences and museum visitors in a world marked by the proliferation of things? How can we learn to wonder or be curious about ‘stuff’? The answer, in Mitman’s vision, is that we select and perform or present just a few objects, juxtaposed with others that can carry the Anthropocene story in quirky ways. When the idea of global change is too big and abstract for human comprehension, a small cabinet can act as a microcosm to enable an imaginative and active response. Each object is there for its own story. Together in a cabinet they become a chorus of stories.

The object

One of the 25 objects ‘performed’ at the Anthropene Slam and subsequently selected for the Deutsches Museum’s Anthropocene Wunderkammer was a domestic pesticide applicator. The familiar bike-pump-sized pesticide sprayer was a popular household item from the 1920s to the 1950s. In the United States the Standard Oil Company’s ‘Flit’ brand of insecticide became synonymous with the spray pump. Other countries had their own brands: in Australia it was Mortein.

‘Flit’ branded handheld pesticide spray pump

‘Flit’ branded handheld pesticide spray pump, 1928 – Hamburg Museum

The pesticide pump sprayer speaks of a faith in science to improve lifestyles, and the hubris of humanity’s desire to control nature. The sprayer’s genealogy links to both the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions, each a break in time that has been argued to mark the Anthropocene.[30] It is an object born of the demographic shift towards large urban populations, and the demands for greater intensification and efficiencies in food growing that make that shift possible. Until the mid-20th century (the likely date stratigraphers will use for the dawn of the Anthropocene[31]), most older-generation pesticides had been available for hundreds of years. Soaps, oils, salt, sulphur, and more toxic substances, such as those derived from arsenic, lead and mercury, were applied in all manner of ways. It was the social and economic changes of the 19th century, however, that drove sprayer development, as growers sought to cover plants and trees on a larger scale, with more efficiency.

Bellows syringe sprayer

Bellows syringe sprayer, 1874 – The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser

As early as the 1870s, American Agriculturalist reported a French horticulturalist using bellows across a nozzle to disperse insecticide. The article explains that the device and its production of ‘liquid dust’ use the same principles of fluid dynamics as a perfume sprinkler or medical atomiser.[32] A fine spray could cover all of a tree more easily, quickly and without wasting pouring liquid or dusting. By the 1890s the use of portable and horsedrawn pesticide sprayers was so common that the New South Wales Minister for Mines and Agriculture held a field competition in December 1890 at Parramatta to determine the best and most efficient commercial insecticide sprayer. The Australian-made ‘Farrington’ machine was fitted on a cart and could spray 500 gallons per day. Some needed two operators but others could be used by a single person, pumping with one hand and holding the sprayer with the other. The Lowe’s machine had a three-in-one action: it could spray, fumigate and expel a hot vapour of sulphur and steam near its nozzle. Observers noted that cross-winds often wasted the fumigant, so some orchardists proposed enveloping trees in tents that could ensure the expensive fumes were trapped where they were needed. On the day, the most impressive sprayer was a new machine from the United States. It was compact and used compressed air rather than a hand pump to create the hydraulic pressure, so ‘all that the orchardist has to do is stand at the nozzle and blaze away at pest and disease’.[33] It was the fastest of the sprayers in the competition, dressing a tree in just two-and-a-half minutes.

At the same time that chemical companies were advertising pesticide formulas to landholders in the late 19th century, they were adapting agricultural sprayers to deliver chemicals for domestic gardens and inside the home.[34] From the 1920s, when better sprayer design and pervasive chemical industry advertising combined with higher household incomes and campaigns for improved domestic hygiene and ‘mothercraft’, the familiar home pump sprayer became widely used. After the Second World War, the sprayer formulas became longer lasting and more effective, with new synthetic chemicals. Less than two decades later, the public began to discover that the miracle chemicals were not as safe as they had been led to believe.

Performing the object

A ten-minute ‘slam’ format presents a challenge to historians in particular, who by their nature and training, are dedicated to providing context. How much story, information and reflection is possible in ten minutes? The format shaped the form and selection of story – the performance had to provoke and begin a conversation. It would not be possible to explain everything. The invited presenters, Michelle Mart and Cameron Muir, opened their performance by playing characters, two archetypes associated with the use of chemicals in different contexts – domestic, urban, wealthy on the one hand, and industrial, rural and poor on the other.[35]

An immaculate housewife waits at the door to greet her husband

An immaculate housewife waits at the door to greet her husband, 1953 – H Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Corbis

Michelle Mart appeared as a 1950s housewife, a stereotype from the period’s advertising posters come to life, complete with lipstick, pearls and twin-set. She advocated the convenience and virtues of a bug-free household, as images projected in the background showed advertising and stylised scenes of the suburban ideal. Successful domestic management, or orderliness, cleanliness, and wholesomeness: perfect weed-free lawns, insect-free kitchens, and unblemished fruit and vegetables. Mart was the woman who stood on the veranda of a neat, architecturally designed house to welcome her husband home from work. Her home was managed with a pump spray that dispersed DDT through the kitchen cupboards, just like in the military, where officers were photographed spraying DDT down a fellow serviceman’s shirt. Some of the men came home from being sprayed in wartime service to the new peacetime spraying on the suburban frontier.

A US soldier is demonstrating DDT hand-spraying equipment while applying the insecticide

A US soldier is demonstrating DDT hand-spraying equipment while applying the insecticide – Centres for Disease Control Public Health Image Library

Advertising urged homeowners to use chemicals for the sake of the family’s health (some thought polio was spread by the housefly), while another has fruit and vegetables singing, ‘DDT is good for me-e-e!’ Mart’s 1950s character proclaimed she is ‘lucky to live at a time when the wonders of modern technology and chemistry have transformed our lives’, and best of all, the new chemicals are ‘safe for everybody’.[36]

‘DDT is good for m-e-e’ advertisement, Penn Salt Chemicals

‘DDT is good for m-e-e’ advertisement, Penn Salt Chemicals, 1947 – Collector’s Weekly

At this point the second character entered: Cameron Muir was an agricultural worker in a white, full-body chemical hazmat suit, including hood, gloves, goggles and face mask, and carrying a large knapsack pump sprayer adorned with lurid red-and-black warnings about its toxicity. We have moved beyond the innocence of postwar hubris in scientific and industrial expertise, but users are exposed to more chemicals than ever. The agricultural worker character speaks of his brother, who blames the pesticides for illnesses and behavioural problems in his children. He wants to leave the job of spraying but he can’t find work elsewhere. The worker fears local complaints about the chemicals will endanger their relationship with the company employing them.

Woman in Metema community, Ethiopia, using knapsack sprayer

Woman in Metema community, Ethiopia, using knapsack sprayer, 2010 – International Livestock Research Institute

The images projected in the background show the faces of individual agricultural works in developing countries, some of them disfigured by pesticide exposure and light aircraft spraying vast fields. Amidst health concerns and well-informed anxiety about spraying pesticides, industrial agriculture has scaled up again in the 21st century.

Crop duster plane flying over Imperial Valley farms

Crop duster plane flying over Imperial Valley farms, May 1972 – Charles O’Rear/The US National Archives

The object and performance as provocateur

Who owns the story of pesticides? The narrative of triumphant technological progress and control of nature continues to hold influence even in the face of startling costs and unintended consequences. Social and political commentators still attempt to discredit Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring 50 years later, while the chemical and seed industries sell promises of control, simplicity and safety to farmers wracked by the reality of an unpredictable nature and markets. More powerful than earnestness and statistics, Mart and Muir’s performance gave the voice to the Flit spray can and used it to retell the stereotypical narrative of technological progress. Humour, irony and juxtaposition can be more effective than numbers in exposing hubris in the failed narrative. The presentation made its point not just by telling, but by showing. It is a human story. The archetypal characters, images and objects spoke for themselves; each member of the audience actively made their own interpretations and connections.

Towards the end of the presentation, Mart and Muir stepped out of character and spoke to the audience directly, personally. The ‘pitch’ or telling mode was reserved until the object story and its historical frames had been performed beforehand. The background or hypertext for the performance included the bigger scale, Anthropocene stories: since the Second World War humans have released more than 80,000 chemical compounds that no organism had previously encountered in the 3.5-billion-year history of life on earth.[37] This profound change will persist in the geological record and in our genetic legacies. Everyone is still exposed to this chemical soup. Researchers in the Lancet Neurology have declared we are in the midst of a ‘global, silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity’.[38] It’s even worse for those who farm or who live in the world’s most polluted places. The presentation ended with a provocative set of images. In the 1990s anthropologist Elizabeth Guillette asked children from the Yaqui Valley in Mexico to draw simple pictures – one group was from the agricultural lowlands, the other from the pesticide-free highlands. The children from the agricultural region could barely form shapes.[39] The difference in the drawings was a striking visualisation of what is largely an invisible agent of harm. It was also an illustration of the geographic inequality of toxic burdens.

The chorus

The domestic pesticide applicator object was one of 25 performed in the Madison Chorus. It has now been chosen to travel on to the Deutsches Museum, where a new cabinet of curiosities will be re-assembled in July 2015 with some of the Madison objects and some new, locally chosen Anthropocene objects. Global changes are everywhere, but human responses are personal, local, and the slam was an event for Madison. Munich is another context: another language, a science and technology museum, and the juxtaposition of the cabinet with a whole gallery of ideas and objects for the Anthropocene.[40] What the Madison cabinet brings is an event and a set of objects that can interrogate the gallery project for the Deutsches Museum and its university partner, the Rachel Carson Center. It also invites local content – objects that have resonance in Munich. The slam-style event works to collect together the object stories and to draw out patterns and sympathies between them.

The Anthropocene Slam created a chorus of objects that worked together in Madison, juxtaposed with each other and the performances of their presenters. In fact, the audience was reluctant to vote for ‘best object’ in each section; these were not solo objects or voices, but rather notes that together created chords of global change stories, stories that were layered together with others. It didn’t make sense to pick out the ‘tenor’ or ‘soprano’ line for special attention. The poetry slam is usually a competition with a cash prize. The Anthropocene Slam resisted the competitive framework. Rather, it invited scholarly collaboration in a playful context. The shift from competition to chorus was its great success, enabling collaboration and partnerships and the reflections arising from some very different objects.

The global and the local

The Anthropocene Slam suggested one way to scale the abstract and global through personal objects. It created an object-conversation that worked for all ages and in intergenerational contexts. Educating citizens about living with global change is not a task for schools alone. This story affects every generation. As the Deutsches Museum has already realised, museums can be partners in this global education, and are ideally suited to intergenerational conversations: grandchildren and grandparents already often visit a museum together.

HKW took the scholarly mission to educate people about the Anthropocene as its focus, as part of a two-year Anthropocene Project. For 11 days in November 2014, HKW created an international ‘Anthropocene Campus’, where its galleries showcased the exhibitions, video documentaries and artworks developed through its Anthropocene Project. Campus participants worked to develop a ‘curriculum’, including textbook and online teaching materials, through seminars and workshops on approaches to the ideas of the Anthropocene. Nearly 30 presenters worked with more than 100 interested participants, doctoral and postdoctoral scholars and practising artists.[41] Most of the presenters came from scientific disciplines leading Anthropocene discussions (especially earth, atmospheric and ocean sciences). Participants included a significant number of designers, museum specialists and visual artists, as well as scholars of earth sciences and environmental humanities. The boundaries between science and humanities dissolved in the intense program; the need to communicate and to teach and learn demanded clear, non-technical language and strong images. The overwhelming thrust of the curriculum materials was to develop human and emotional responses to the Anthropocene, as well as ways to converse beyond disciplinary silos to work together to solve problems and engage audiences.

Thinking with museums

How can we slow down the future to enable a sense of control? What is globally curious? What will we ‘wonder’ at in future? What sort of objects should we collect now for museums of the future? These are all urgent present problems as we imagine how museums will work in the changing circumstances of the Anthropocene. For Collecting the Future, a museum event at the American Museum of Natural History in October 2013, Jennifer Newell, Libby Robin and Kirsten Wehner specifically investigated what communities might collect for community museums of the future in local places that are changing fastest. What objects and stories can travel from depopulating Pacific Islands (where people are confronted with salinising ground water and rising seas) to their new communities in New Zealand or New York? These practical questions about living with climate change can bring communities into museums to use their collections in new ways. Community museums, national museums, science museums and art museums are all members of the Museums and Climate Change network of exchange that emerged from this event.[42]

In Australia, as elsewhere, the arts have been engaging with ideas for imaginative futures through local museums and events. Climarte is one such group that ‘harnesses the creative power of the Arts to inform, engage and inspire action on climate change’.[43] It is an arts-led partnership including prominent artists, Nobel-Prize-winning scientist Peter Doherty and directors of key galleries, Maudie Palmer (founding director of Heide Museum of Modern Art and TarraWarra Museum of Art) and Stuart Purves (director of Australian Galleries, Australia’s longest and most established commercial art gallery). Australian Galleries will host the 2015 Climarte Festival’s opening exhibition, The Warming, curated by Mandy Martin, who was one of the international artists attending the Wisconsin Anthropocene Slam. The exhibition brings together eight artists from Australian Galleries with 17 additional artists who have been invited to contribute an ‘Anthropocene cabinet of curiosities’, a plinth of objects at the heart of the show. Some of the artists will also pitch their ‘curious object’ briefly at a special event on 3 May 2015, and there will be responses from moderators, Peter Christoff (from the University of Melbourne and formerly Victorian Commissioner for the Future), William L Fox and Libby Robin. The aim is to create an event to inspire new thinking about what the arts can do in a future beyond the Holocene.

The future is often constructed through the lens of economic expertise. For example, the Australian Treasury has issued a 2015 Intergenerational Report that focuses exclusively on the economic burdens that the present generation places on those living in 2055.[44] Sometimes it is earth system scientists, or climate modellers who describe futures – for example, under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios of 2 or 4 or 6 degrees of warming. Yet the future is also about cultural and moral choices, not just economics and environment. The worlds of 2055 and beyond will be more than just climate spaces and economies. The museum sector is poised to treat the future as a ‘cultural fact’, in Arjun Appadurai’s terms. Appadurai writes of a future that includes ‘imagination, anticipation and aspiration’.[45] The future is not just about imagining nature or anticipating economic conditions, it is also about aspiration. While ‘probable’ futures are generated by mathematical models of nature and economics, such models often offer little hope. An alternative is to look to museums, to objects and to the creative dialogues of personal visits and performance events to foster qualitative possible futures. The future is not just a technical or neutral space: it is ‘shot through with affect and sensation’.[46] Science and scholarship alone often lack important sensations for imagining the future: ‘awe, vertigo, excitement, disorientation’. Rather than just measuring change in our world – or denying that there is any – we can take a third way that acknowledges change, including, but not only, climate change. Cultural institutions have an important role in enabling communities to get on with living positively with the changes of the Anthropocene. Culture works through ‘the traction of the imagination’, expanding the possibilities for ways to live with the future as it unfolds.[47]

This paper has been independently peer-reviewed.

Endnotes

1 www.chorusofwomen.org.

2 Violent Ends: The Arts of Environmental Anxiety.

3 www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/21/desmond-tutu-climate-change-is-the-global-enemy.

4 Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin N Waters, Mark Williams et al., ‘When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid-twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal’, Quaternary International, 12 January 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2014.11.045.

5 PJ Crutzen, ‘Geology of mankind’, Nature, vol. 415, no. 6867, 2002, 23.

6 Christian Schwägerl, The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How it Shapes the Planet, Synergetic Press, Santa Fe/London, 2014; Luke Keogh & Nina Möllers, ‘Pushing the boundaries: Curating the Anthropocene at the Deutsches Museum’, in Fiona Cameron & Brett Neilson (eds), Climate Change, Museum Futures: The Roles and Agencies of Museums and Science Centers, Routledge, London, 2014, pp. 78–89.

7 Currently chaired by Jan Zalasiewicz, who has worked extensively with humanities scholars (at the University of Chicago and the University of Sydney), and has supervised art projects such as the French artist Yesenia Thibault-Picazo’s Cabinet of Future Geology, currently showing at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, until 2016. In 2015 another version of Thibault-Picazo’s work will be part of the Globale Festival in the New Media Museum, Karlsruhe, Germany.

8 Bernd Scherer (ed.), The Anthropocene Project: A Report, HKW, Berlin, 2014; Libby Robin, Dag Avango, Luke Keogh, Nina Möllers, Bernd Scherer & Helmuth Trischler, ‘Three galleries of the Anthropocene’, Anthropocene Review, vol. 1, no. 3,  207–24.

9 W Steffen, J Grinevald, P Crutzen & J McNeill, ‘The Anthropocene: Conceptual and historical perspectives’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A,vol. 369, 2011, 842–67.

10 Mike Hulme, ‘Reducing the future to climate: A story of climate determinism and reductionism’, Osiris, vol. 26, 2011, 245–66, p. 245.

11 Jan Zalasiewicz, ‘Buried treasure’, in Geoff Manaugh (ed.), Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions, Nevada Museum of Art and Actar, Reno, 2013, pp. 258–61.

12 Susan L Dautel, ‘Transoceanic trash: International and United States strategies for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal, vol. 3, no. 1, 2009, 181–208. This sort of global phenomenon (which grew and changed shape dramatically after the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011) has been very effectively illustrated in museums through ‘Science on a Sphere’ technology created by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Alaska State Museum, Juneau, http://juneauempire.com/stories/050109/ent_435381904.shtml#.VRTsEfmUeCc.

13 From the ‘Call for objects’ (distributed through H-Net online 2013), www.carsoncenter.uni-muenchen.de/download/events/cfps/cfp_cabinet-of-curiosities.pdf.

14 Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2014.

15 Crutzen, ‘Geology of mankind’ (p. 23).

16 Oliver Impey & Arthur MacGregor (eds) The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Europe, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1985.

17 Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands (in English). The exhibition gallery opened 4 December 2014, and will run till 2016; Nina Möllers, Christian Schwägerl & Helmuth Trischler (eds) Willkommen im Anthropozän: Unsere Verantwortung für die Zukunft der Erde, Deutsches Museum, Munich, 2014; see also Libby Robin, Dag Avango, Luke Keogh, Nina Möllers, Bernd Scherer & Helmuth Trischler, ‘Three galleries of the Anthropocene’, Anthropocene Review, vol. 1, no. 3, 2014, 207–24, doi:10.1177/2053019614550533.

18 Munich, 5–7 July 2015, www.carsoncenter.uni-muenchen.de/events_conf_seminars/calendar/ws_anthropocene-objects/index.html.

19 www.kth.se/en/abe/inst/philhist/historia/2.45962/2.60531/tales.

20 nelson.wisc.edu/che/anthroslam/about/index.php.

21 From Environmental Futures unpublished prospectus (‘Call for papers’), 2013; see also Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2011.

22 Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2001, p. 5, emphasis added.

23 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Duke UP, Durham, 2010, p. xi.

24 Christof Mauch, ‘The Great Acceleration of Objects’, Plenary panel, Anthropocene Slam, UW Madison, 10 November 2014.

25 Charles Leadbeater, ‘The disremembered’, Aeon Magazine, March 2015, http://aeon.co/magazine/psychology/where-does-identity-go-once-memory-falters-in-dementia.

26 Bennett, Enchantment,p. 4.

27 Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects, Penguin, London, 2012 (1st edn 2010), p. xix.

28 Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, Vintage, London, 2011.

29 MacGregor, History of the World, p. xxv.

30 William F Ruddiman, ‘The Anthropogenic Greenhouse Era began thousands of years ago’, Climatic Change, vol. 61, no. 3, 2003; Crutzen, ‘Geology of mankind’.

31 Zalasiewicz, Waters, Williams et al., ‘When did the Anthropocene begin?’.

32 ‘Destroying insects – Bellows-Syringe’, Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 28 March 1874.

33 ‘Death to fruit pests and diseases: Experiments with appliances’, Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW), 13 December 1890.

34 Will Allen, The War on Bugs, Chelsea Green, White River Junction, Vt, 2008.

35 Michelle Mart (Pennsylvania State University) and Cameron Muir (Australian National University), both former fellows of the Rachel Carson Center, Munich, independently suggested the sprayer. They were both among the group selected to present at the slam, and since they had the same object, they were asked to work together on it.

36 Michelle Mart & Cameron Muir, ‘Flit sprayer’, Anthropocene Slam presentation, 8 November 2014, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA.

37 Mariann Lloyd-Smith & Bro Sheffield-Brotherton, ‘Children’s environmental health: Intergenerational equity in action – a civil society perspective’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 11, no. 1140, 2008, 190–200.

38 Philippe Grandjean & Philip J Landrigan, ‘Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity’, Lancet Neurology, vol. 13, no. 3, 2014, 330–8.

39 Elizabeth A Guillette, Maria Mercedes Meza, Maria Guadalupe Aquilar, Alma Delia Soto & Idalia Enedina Garcia, ‘An anthropological approach to the evaluation of preschool children exposed to pesticides in Mexico’, Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 106, 1998, 347–53.

40 Robin et al., ‘Three galleries’.

41 Scherer et al., The Anthropocene Project; see also Robin et al., ‘Three galleries’, esp. p. 215, doi:10.1177/2053019614550533.

42 Museums and Climate Change Networkwww.amnh.org/our-research/anthropology/projects/museums-and-climate-change-network; Collecting the Future event, www.amnh.org/our-research/anthropology/news-events/collecting-the-future; Jennifer Newell, Libby Robin & Kirsten Wehner (eds), Curating the Future,University of Hawaii Press, Hawaii, forthcoming.

43 http://climarte.org/category/climarte-archive.

44 www.treasury.gov.au/PublicationsAndMedia/Publications/2015/2015-Intergenerational-Report.

45 Arjun Appadurai, The Future as a Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition, Verso, London, 2013, p. 286.

46 ibid.

47 ibid.

Anthropocene: The human age (Nature)

Momentum is building to establish a new geological epoch that recognizes humanity’s impact on the planet. But there is fierce debate behind the scenes.

Richard Monastersky

11 March 2015

Illustration by Jessica Fortner

Almost all the dinosaurs have vanished from the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. The fossil hall is now mostly empty and painted in deep shadows as palaeobiologist Scott Wing wanders through the cavernous room.

Wing is part of a team carrying out a radical, US$45-million redesign of the exhibition space, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution. And when it opens again in 2019, the hall will do more than revisit Earth’s distant past. Alongside the typical displays of Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops, there will be a new section that forces visitors to consider the species that is currently dominating the planet.

“We want to help people imagine their role in the world, which is maybe more important than many of them realize,” says Wing.

This provocative exhibit will focus on the Anthropocene — the slice of Earth’s history during which people have become a major geological force. Through mining activities alone, humans move more sediment than all the world’s rivers combined. Homo sapiens has also warmed the planet, raised sea levels, eroded the ozone layer and acidified the oceans.

Given the magnitude of these changes, many researchers propose that the Anthropocene represents a new division of geological time. The concept has gained traction, especially in the past few years — and not just among geoscientists. The word has been invoked by archaeologists, historians and even gender-studies researchers; several museums around the world have exhibited art inspired by the Anthropocene; and the media have heartily adopted the idea. “Welcome to the Anthropocene,” The Economist announced in 2011.

The greeting was a tad premature. Although the term is trending, the Anthropocene is still an amorphous notion — an unofficial name that has yet to be accepted as part of the geological timescale. That may change soon. A committee of researchers is currently hashing out whether to codify the Anthropocene as a formal geological unit, and when to define its starting point.

But critics worry that important arguments against the proposal have been drowned out by popular enthusiasm, driven in part by environmentally minded researchers who want to highlight how destructive humans have become. Some supporters of the Anthropocene idea have even been likened to zealots. “There’s a similarity to certain religious groups who are extremely keen on their religion — to the extent that they think everybody who doesn’t practise their religion is some kind of barbarian,” says one geologist who asked not to be named.

The debate has shone a spotlight on the typically unnoticed process by which geologists carve up Earth’s 4.5 billion years of history. Normally, decisions about the geological timescale are made solely on the basis of stratigraphy — the evidence contained in layers of rock, ocean sediments, ice cores and other geological deposits. But the issue of the Anthropocene “is an order of magnitude more complicated than the stratigraphy”, says Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester, UK, and the chair of the Anthropocene Working Group that is evaluating the issue for the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).

Written in stone

For geoscientists, the timescale of Earth’s history rivals the periodic table in terms of scientific importance. It has taken centuries of painstaking stratigraphic work — matching up major rock units around the world and placing them in order of formation — to provide an organizing scaffold that supports all studies of the planet’s past. “The geologic timescale, in my view, is one of the great achievements of humanity,” says Michael Walker, a Quaternary scientist at the University of Wales Trinity St David in Lampeter, UK.

Walker’s work sits at the top of the timescale. He led a group that helped to define the most recent unit of geological time, the Holocene epoch, which began about 11,700 years ago.

Sources: Dams/Water/Fertilizer, IGBP; Fallout, Ref. 5; Map, E. C. Ellis Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369, 1010–1035 (2011); Methane, Ref. 4

The decision to formalize the Holocene in 2008 was one of the most recent major actions by the ICS, which oversees the timescale. The commission has segmented Earth’s history into a series of nested blocks, much like the years, months and days of a calendar. In geological time, the 66 million years since the death of the dinosaurs is known as the Cenozoic era. Within that, the Quaternary period occupies the past 2.58 million years — during which Earth has cycled in and out of a few dozen ice ages. The vast bulk of the Quaternary consists of the Pleistocene epoch, with the Holocene occupying the thin sliver of time since the end of the last ice age.

When Walker and his group defined the beginning of the Holocene, they had to pick a spot on the planet that had a signal to mark that boundary. Most geological units are identified by a specific change recorded in rocks — often the first appearance of a ubiquitous fossil. But the Holocene is so young, geologically speaking, that it permits an unusual level of precision. Walker and his colleagues selected a climatic change — the end of the last ice age’s final cold snap — and identified a chemical signature of that warming at a depth of 1,492.45 metres in a core of ice drilled near the centre of Greenland1. A similar fingerprint of warming can be seen in lake and marine sediments around the world, allowing geologists to precisely identify the start of the Holocene elsewhere.

“The geologic timescale, in my view, is one of the great achievements of humanity.”

Even as the ICS was finalizing its decision on the start of the Holocene, discussion was already building about whether it was time to end that epoch and replace it with the Anthropocene. This idea has a long history. In the mid-nineteenth century, several geologists sought to recognize the growing power of humankind by referring to the present as the ‘anthropozoic era’, and others have since made similar proposals, sometimes with different names. The idea has gained traction only in the past few years, however, in part because of rapid changes in the environment, as well as the influence of Paul Crutzen, a chemist at the Max Plank Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany.

Crutzen has first-hand experience of how human actions are altering the planet. In the 1970s and 1980s, he made major discoveries about the ozone layer and how pollution from humans could damage it — work that eventually earned him a share of a Nobel prize. In 2000, he and Eugene Stoermer of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor argued that the global population has gained so much influence over planetary processes that the current geological epoch should be called the Anthropocene2. As an atmospheric chemist, Crutzen was not part of the community that adjudicates changes to the geological timescale. But the idea inspired many geologists, particularly Zalasiewicz and other members of the Geological Society of London. In 2008, they wrote a position paper urging their community to consider the idea3.

Those authors had the power to make things happen. Zalasiewicz happened to be a member of the Quaternary subcommission of the ICS, the body that would be responsible for officially considering the suggestion. One of his co-authors, geologist Phil Gibbard of the University of Cambridge, UK, chaired the subcommission at the time.

Although sceptical of the idea, Gibbard says, “I could see it was important, something we should not be turning our backs on.” The next year, he tasked Zalasiewicz with forming the Anthropocene Working Group to look into the matter.

A new beginning

Since then, the working group has been busy. It has published two large reports (“They would each hurt you if they dropped on your toe,” says Zalasiewicz) and dozens of other papers.

The group has several issues to tackle: whether it makes sense to establish the Anthropocene as a formal part of the geological timescale; when to start it; and what status it should have in the hierarchy of the geological time — if it is adopted.

When Crutzen proposed the term Anthropocene, he gave it the suffix appropriate for an epoch and argued for a starting date in the late eighteenth century, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Between then and the start of the new millennium, he noted, humans had chewed a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, doubled the amount of methane in the atmosphere and driven up carbon dioxide concentrations by 30%, to a level not seen in 400,000 years.

When the Anthropocene Working Group started investigating, it compiled a much longer long list of the changes wrought by humans. Agriculture, construction and the damming of rivers is stripping away sediment at least ten times as fast as the natural forces of erosion. Along some coastlines, the flood of nutrients from fertilizers has created oxygen-poor ‘dead zones’, and the extra CO2 from fossil-fuel burning has acidified the surface waters of the ocean by 0.1 pH units. The fingerprint of humans is clear in global temperatures, the rate of species extinctions and the loss of Arctic ice.

The group, which includes Crutzen, initially leaned towards his idea of choosing the Industrial Revolution as the beginning of the Anthropocene. But other options were on the table.

Some researchers have argued for a starting time that coincides with an expansion of agriculture and livestock cultivation more than 5,000 years ago4, or a surge in mining more than 3,000 years ago (see ‘Humans at the helm’). But neither the Industrial Revolution nor those earlier changes have left unambiguous geological signals of human activity that are synchronous around the globe (see ‘Landscape architecture’).

This week in Nature, two researchers propose that a potential marker for the start of the Anthropocene could be a noticeable drop in atmospheric CO2 concentrations between 1570 and 1620, which is recorded in ice cores (see page 171). They link this change to the deaths of some 50 million indigenous people in the Americas, triggered by the arrival of Europeans. In the aftermath, forests took over 65 million hectares of abandoned agricultural fields — a surge of regrowth that reduced global CO2.

Landscape architecture

A model of land use, based on human-population estimates, suggests that people modified substantial parts of the continents even thousands of years ago.

Land used intensively by humans.

8,000 years before present (bp)

8,000 years before present (bp)

1,000 years before present (bp)

anthropocene-slideshow-5

Present

anthropocene-slideshow-10

Source: E. C. Ellis Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369, 1010–1035 (2011).

In the working group, Zalasiewicz and others have been talking increasingly about another option — using the geological marks left by the atomic age. Between 1945 and 1963, when the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty took effect, nations conducted some 500 above-ground nuclear blasts. Debris from those explosions circled the globe and created an identifiable layer of radioactive elements in sediments. At the same time, humans were making geological impressions in a number of other ways — all part of what has been called the Great Acceleration of the modern world. Plastics started flooding the environment, along with aluminium, artificial fertilizers, concrete and leaded petrol, all of which have left signals in the sedimentary record.

In January, the majority of the 37-person working group offered its first tentative conclusion. Zalasiewicz and 25 other members reported5 that the geological markers available from the mid-twentieth century make this time “stratigraphically optimal” for picking the start of the Anthropocene, whether or not it is formally defined. Zalasiewicz calls it “a candidate for the least-worst boundary”.

The group even proposed a precise date: 16 July 1945, the day of the first atomic-bomb blast. Geologists thousands of years in the future would be able to identify the boundary by looking in the sediments for the signature of long-lived plutonium from mid-century bomb blasts or many of the other global markers from that time.

A many-layered debate

The push to formalize the Anthropocene upsets some stratigraphers. In 2012, a commentary published by the Geological Society of America6 asked: “Is the Anthropocene an issue of stratigraphy or pop culture?” Some complain that the working group has generated a stream of publicity in support of the concept. “I’m frustrated because any time they do anything, there are newspaper articles,” says Stan Finney, a stratigraphic palaeontologist at California State University in Long Beach and the chair of the ICS, which would eventually vote on any proposal put forward by the working group. “What you see here is, it’s become a political statement. That’s what so many people want.”

Finney laid out some of his concerns in a paper7 published in 2013. One major question is whether there really are significant records of the Anthropocene in global stratigraphy. In the deep sea, he notes, the layer of sediments representing the past 70 years would be thinner than 1 millimetre. An even larger issue, he says, is whether it is appropriate to name something that exists mainly in the present and the future as part of the geological timescale.

“It’s become a political statement. That’s what so many people want.”

Some researchers argue that it is too soon to make a decision — it will take centuries or longer to know what lasting impact humans are having on the planet. One member of the working group, Erle Ellis, a geographer at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says that he raised the idea of holding off with fellow members of the group. “We should set a time, perhaps 1,000 years from now, in which we would officially investigate this,” he says. “Making a decision before that would be premature.”

That does not seem likely, given that the working group plans to present initial recommendations by 2016.

Some members with different views from the majority have dropped out of the discussion. Walker and others contend that human activities have already been recognized in the geological timescale: the only difference between the current warm period, the Holocene, and all the interglacial times during the Pleistocene is the presence of human societies in the modern one. “You’ve played the human card in defining the Holocene. It’s very difficult to play the human card again,” he says.

Walker resigned from the group a year ago, when it became clear that he had little to add. He has nothing but respect for its members, he says, but he has heard concern that the Anthropocene movement is picking up speed. “There’s a sense in some quarters that this is something of a juggernaut,” he says. “Within the geologic community, particularly within the stratigraphic community, there is a sense of disquiet.”

Zalasiewicz takes pains to make it clear that the working group has not yet reached any firm conclusions.“We need to discuss the utility of the Anthropocene. If one is to formalize it, who would that help, and to whom it might be a nuisance?” he says. “There is lots of work still to do.”

Any proposal that the group did make would still need to pass a series of hurdles. First, it would need to receive a supermajority — 60% support — in a vote by members of the Quaternary subcommission. Then it would need to reach the same margin in a second vote by the leadership of the full ICS, which includes chairs from groups that study the major time blocks. Finally, the executive committee of the International Union of Geological Sciences must approve the request.

At each step, proposals are often sent back for revision, and they sometimes die altogether. It is an inherently conservative process, says Martin Head, a marine stratigrapher at Brock University in St Catharines, Canada, and the current head of the Quaternary subcommission. “You are messing around with a timescale that is used by millions of people around the world. So if you’re making changes, they have to be made on the basis of something for which there is overwhelming support.”

Some voting members of the Quaternary subcommission have told Nature that they have not been persuaded by the arguments raised so far in favour of the Anthropocene. Gibbard, a friend of Zalasiewicz’s, says that defining this new epoch will not help most Quaternary geologists, especially those working in the Holocene, because they tend not to study material from the past few decades or centuries. But, he adds: “I don’t want to be the person who ruins the party, because a lot of useful stuff is coming out as a consequence of people thinking about this in a systematic way.”

If a proposal does not pass, researchers could continue to use the name Anthropocene on an informal basis, in much the same way as archaeological terms such as the Neolithic era and the Bronze Age are used today. Regardless of the outcome, the Anthropocene has already taken on a life of its own. Three Anthropocene journals have started up in the past two years, and the number of papers on the topic is rising sharply, with more than 200 published in 2014.

By 2019, when the new fossil hall opens at the Smithsonian’s natural history museum, it will probably be clear whether the Anthropocene exhibition depicts an official time unit or not. Wing, a member of the working group, says that he does not want the stratigraphic debate to overshadow the bigger issues. “There is certainly a broader point about human effects on Earth systems, which is way more important and also more scientifically interesting.”

As he walks through the closed palaeontology hall, he points out how much work has yet to be done to refashion the exhibits and modernize the museum, which opened more than a century ago. A hundred years is a heartbeat to a geologist. But in that span, the human population has more than tripled. Wing wants museum visitors to think, however briefly, about the planetary power that people now wield, and how that fits into the context of Earth’s history. “If you look back from 10 million years in the future,” he says, “you’ll be able to see what we were doing today.”

Nature 519, 144–147 (12 March 2015), doi:10.1038/519144a

References

  1. Walker, M. et alJ. Quat. Sci. 24317 (2009).
  2. Crutzen, P. J. & Stoermer, E. F. IGBP Newsletter 411718 (2000).
  3. Zalasiewicz. J. et alGSA Today 18(2), 48 (2008).
  4. Ruddiman, W. F. Ann. Rev. Earth. Planet. Sci. 414568 (2013).
  5. Zalasiewicz, J. et alQuatern. Int. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2014.11.045 (2015).
  6. Autin, W. J. & Holbrook, J. M. GSA Today 22(7), 6061 (2012).
  7. Finney, S. C. Geol. Soc. Spec. Publ. 3952328 (2013).

Inuits do Canadá: uma longa jornada de volta (Estadão)

The Economist

04 Março 2015 | 03h 00

Esqueletos foram descobertos há pouco tempo em um museu francês, mas caminho para repatriá-los não é fácil

Em agosto de 1880, oito Inuits da costa nordeste do Canadá aceitaram viajar para a Europa a fim de serem exibidos em um zoológico humano. Pouco depois, morriam de varíola, antes de retornar ao seu lar. Os esqueletos de Abraham Ulrikab e da maior parte dos seus companheiros foram descobertos há pouco tempo, montados completamente nos depósitos de um museu francês para serem exibidos. Os anciãos Inuits querem que os restos mortais de seu povo, até mesmo dos que morreram longe dos territórios de caça do Norte, nos séculos 19 e 20, voltem para o seu país. Mas isso levará muito tempo.

O governo de Nunatsiavut, uma região Inuit do norte do Labrador criada em 2005, já recuperou restos humanos de museus de Chicago e da Terranova. David Lough, vice-ministro da Cultura de Nunatsiavut, não sabe ao certo quantos outros há para serem reclamados. Mas ele acredita que, em 500 anos de contato entre o Labrador e o mundo exterior, muitas pessoas e artefatos foram parar do outro lado do oceano. Nancy Columbia fez parte de um grupo encarregado de apresentar a cultura Inuit na Feira Mundial de Chicago, e chegou a Hollywood, onde estrelou filmes western como princesa americana nativa.

The New York Times

Governo procura descendentes para definir o que será feito

Até pouco tempo atrás, os museus resistiam a devolver restos humanos, em nome da ciência e da preservação da cultura. As múmias egípcias do Museu Britânico e as tsantsas (cabeças encolhidas) do Amazonas, do Museu Pitt Rivers de Oxford, são as peças mais importantes de suas coleções. Mas, pressionados por grupos indígenas, começaram a ceder. A Declaração sobre os Direitos das Nações Indígenas da ONU, adotada em 2007, consagra o direito de reclamar restos humanos, assim como a legislação em Grã-Bretanha, Austrália e Estados Unidos (mas não a do Canadá). Dezenas de museus (incluindo o Museu Britânico e o Pitt Rivers) elaboraram políticas de repatriação e códigos éticos sobre o tratamento a ser dado a restos mortais. O Museu do Homem da França, onde os esqueletos de Abraham Ulrikab e seus companheiros estão guardados, pretende devolvê-los, afirma France Rivet, autora de um novo livro sobre a saga do grupo. “Eles aguardam apenas uma solicitação do Canadá”, afirma.

A solicitação não chegou, diz Lough, em parte porque “os Inuits querem que todos sejam consultados”. A frágil situação das comunidades Inuit torna isso difícil. Hebron, terra natal da família Ulrikab, foi fundada por missionários da Morávia. Mas o assentamento foi abandonado em 1959, quando a missão fechou; os descendentes da família se dispersaram. Eles deverão ser encontrados para ajudar a decidir onde os restos deverão ser sepultados e o tipo de cerimônia que será realizado. Nakvak, local de origem de outros integrantes do grupo original, agora fica no Parque Nacional das Montanhas Torngat, e existem obstáculos burocráticos para utilizá-lo como local de sepultamento.

Somente depois que os Inuits decidirem o que fazer com os restos mortais as negociações poderão começar entre os governos do Canadá e da França a respeito de sua devolução e do pagamento dos custos da repatriação. Em 2013, Stephen Harper, primeiro-ministro do Canadá, e o presidente da França, François Hollande, concordaram em colaborar para a repatriação. Mas a África do Sul esperou oito anos por Saartjie Baartman, a “Vênus hotentote”, depois que Nelson Mandela solicitou seu regresso, em 1994. Para Abraham Ulrikab e seus amigos, pelo menos, a jornada de volta começou.

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Roteiro Meteorológico no Museu Catavento (Fapesp)

19/03/2014

Agência FAPESP – A fim de marcar o Dia Mundial da Meteorologia, o museu Catavento Cultural e Educacional programou, para o dia 23 de março, um “Roteiro Meteorológico”, por meio do qual o visitante poderá saber um pouco mais sobre temas como efeito estufa, poluição atmosférica, (falta de) chuva e incidência de raios.

O roteiro inclui uma visita à estação medidora da Companhia Ambiental do Estado de São Paulo (Cetesb), situada no Parque Dom Pedro II, com entrada pelo pátio interno do Catavento. A seção Engenho conta com instalações como a “Fábrica de Raios” e o “Tornado de Água”, nos quais se explicam como se formam raios, tornados, tufões e furacões.

Ao final, os visitantes poderão conferir a exposição Momento Único, com fotos de raios feitas no Brasil.

A visitação ocorrerá em três horários (11h; 13h30 e 15h), na Praça São Vito, Parque Dom Pedro II, em São Paulo.

Mais informações sobre o museu: www.cataventocultural.org.br/home.

Who owns the bones? Should bodies in museum exhibits be returned home? (Science Daily)

Date: February 4, 2014

Source: Wiley

Summary: From Egyptian mummies to Ötzi the Iceman, human remains are a common, if macabre, feature of museum exhibits. A researcher now explores the argument that curators have an ethical obligation to return these bodies to their native communities for burial.

From Egyptian mummies to Ötzi the Iceman, human remains are a common, if macabre, feature of museum exhibits. Writing in Clinical Anatomy, Dr. Philippe Charlier explores the argument that curators have an ethical obligation to return these bodies to their native communities for burial.

The recent case of the ‘Irish Giant’ Charles Byrne reveals that this is not an issue limited to cadavers from pre-antiquity. Byrne found celebrity in the 1780s and while his skeleton remains in the Royal College of Surgeons in London, ethics experts argue his remains should be buried at sea in accordance with his wishes.

Dr. Charlier argues that human remains in museums and scientific institutions can be divided into four categories, ‘ethnographical elements’ such as hair samples with no certain identification; anatomical remains such as whole skeletons or skulls; archaeological remains; and more modern collections of skulls, used in now discredited studies in the early 20th century.

After exploring case study examples from around the world, Dr. Charlier argues that the concept of the body as property is anything but clear and depends heavily on local political views and the administrative status of the human remains. The author proposes that the only precise factor permitting restitution should be the name of the individual, as in the case of Charles Byrne.

“The ethical problem posed by the bones of this 18th century individual approximates to that of all human remains conserved in public collections, displayed in museums or other cultural institutions,” said Dr. Charlier. “In the near future, curators will have to choose between global conservation of all (or almost all) anthropological collections on the one hand and systematic restitution to their original communities or families on the other.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Adelheid Soubry, Cathrine Hoyo, Randy L. Jirtle, Susan K. Murphy. A paternal environmental legacy: Evidence for epigenetic inheritance through the male germ lineBioEssays, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/bies.201300113

O rio e o índio (Ciência Hoje)

Publicado em 28/01/2014

Quando vai à pesca, o índio leva cultura e tradição, que o Museu da Amazônia ‘fisgou’ e apresenta em mostra que aborda relação vital e sagrada entre rio e homem.

O rio e o índioA fachada da exposição ‘Peixe e Gente’, organizada pelo Museu da Amazônia, foi ilustrada pelo artista Feliciano Lana, da etnia Desana. (foto: Vanessa Gama)

No coração da floresta amazônica, a relação do homem com o rio é de estreita dependência. Entre os índios, é da pesca que vem o principal alimento da tribo, e o caráter ritual dessa prática e o respeito à natureza associado a ela se refletem na tradição indígena. Esse vínculo é apresentado na exposição ‘Peixe e Gente’, organizada pelo Museu da Amazônia, em Manaus, e que reúne armadilhas, utensílios de cozinha, mapas e até registros de lendas mitológicas que jogam luz sobre essa proximidade vital e sagrada.

A exposição tem como foco a relação essencial e sagrada entre os indígenas e a pesca

A mostra se debruça sobre as crenças e os hábitos das etnias indígenas Tuiuca eTucano, habitantes do alto rio Negro, na região amazônica. Os indígenas abriram suas portas e ajudaram na concepção e montagem da exposição, dispostos a dividir com o Brasil e o mundo suas experiências e tradições culturais pouco difundidas.

Baseada no livro Gente e Peixe no Alto Rio Tiquié, do antropólogo Aloisio Cabalzar, a exposição tem como foco a relação essencial e sagrada entre as tribos e a pesca. A publicação trata dos conhecimentos nativos, mitos e concepções cosmológicas sobre a origem dos peixes e suas relações com o homem.

No Museu, estão expostos objetos indígenas, como armadilhas de pesca, que se revelam muito mais do que simples trabalhos manuais, uma vez que envolvem mitos e tradições sagrados. Um bom exemplo são os matapis – alguns trazidos das comunidades e outros confeccionados no próprio museu pelos índios (ver ‘Pesca dos povos tucanos’, em Ciência Hoje n° 305, disponível para assinantes no Acervo Digital).

MatapiQuando o matapi é colocado a favor das correntezas, os peixes acabam entrando na armadilha quando estão descendo o rio. (foto: Juan Soler)

Segundo a lenda, um indígena chamado Gente-Estrela teve seu filho devorado pela Cobra Grande e utilizou um matapi para capturar o bicho. Ao retirar os miúdos da cobra e os jogar no rio Negro, eles transformaram-se em peixes traíras: como castigo por ter comido o menino, a cobra teria seus descendentes comidos por toda a humanidade para sempre.

Mais do que artesanato, a construção de um matapi requer reflexões e rituais considerados imprescindíveis para a realização de uma boa pesca. Após confeccionar a armadilha, o pescador deve fazer jejum e seguir determinadas regras ao voltar para casa. “Não pode se assustar, fazer ou ouvir muito barulho, sorrir, falar alto, deitar com a mulher, entre outras coisas”, explicam os irmãos tucanos Adalberto e Roberval Pedrosa, da comunidade de serra de Mucura.

Armadilha cacuriSegundo os Tukano, construir um cacuri é construir também o corpo de uma mulher, pois as partes da armadilha coincidem com a anatomia feminina. (foto: Kenny Calderón)

Além de armadilhas, como matapi, jequi, cacuri e caiá, a exposição traz objetos de cerâmica onde são preparados pratos típicos do alto rio Negro, cestarias, peneiras, entre outros artefatos e curiosidades sobre a cultura tuiuca e tucana. A exposição está montada na tenda do Jardim Botânico Adolpho Ducke.

Isabelle Carvalho
Ciência Hoje On-line

"Selvagens" no museu (Pesquisa FAPESP)

Memória
“Selvagens” no museu
Há 128 anos, grupos de índios eram expostos na Exposição antropológica brasileira
Neldson Marcolin

Edição Impressa 175 – Setembro 2010

O dia 29 de julho de 1882 prometia ser diferente na cidade do Rio de Janeiro. O feriado e os fogos de artifício anunciavam o aniversário de 36 anos da princesa Isabel e convidavam para um evento raro na cidade. Naquele dia o Museu Nacional abriu a Exposição antropológica brasileira com a presença das principais personalidades da sociedade carioca e de toda a Corte. Além da princesa, o imperador dom Pedro II e a imperatriz Teresa Cristina visitaram a exposição, amplamente coberta pela imprensa. Também participaram da cerimônia de inauguração alguns índios Botocudo – de Goiás e do Espírito Santo – e Xerente – de Minas Gerais. A diferença é que os indígenas foram trazidos para serem expostos, e não para visitá-la.

© museu nacional

Capa da revista com desenho de índia Botocudo

O evento de 1882 foi um dos acontecimentos científicos mais importantes do final do século XIX no Brasil. Mostras semelhantes às do Rio estavam em voga em outros países da América Latina, Europa e nos Estados Unidos. O desejo de popularizar a ciência, as polêmicas sobre a teoria da evolução proposta por Charles Darwin, o anseio de conhecer o passado do Brasil e o fascínio provocado pelos índios motivaram o diretor do Museu Nacional, Ladislau Netto, a organizar a exposição. As coleções foram dispostas em oito salas que ganharam nomes em homenagem a figuras da história e da ciência: Vaz de Caminha, Léry, Rodrigues Ferreira, Hartt, Lund, Martius, Gabriel Soares e Anchieta. Todos escreveram relatos que ajudavam a tornar conhecido o Brasil de períodos anteriores, desde a descoberta da nova terra no século XVI. As oito salas mostravam peças arqueológicas descobertas no país, como restos humanos fossilizados, conchas de sambaquis e objetos indígenas de etnias diferentes. Também foi editada a Revista da Exposição Anthropologica Brazileira, com artigos que tentavam dar um significado científico ao conjunto apresentado no museu.

© museu nacional

Objetos de rituais usados pelos índios Mahué

Os “selvagens”, como eram chamados, faziam parte da exposição em grupos vivos, compondo um cenário que simulava seu cotidiano. Os artigos da revista, dirigida por Mello Moraes Filho e escritos por especialistas brasileiros, sempre se referiam aos indígenas como representantes dos mais primitivos estágios da evolução humana em contraposição aos evoluídos homens brancos caucasianos. O evento era uma oportunidade para observá-los como se fossem fósseis vivos, na argumentação tão científica quanto possível para aquele período. As medidas dos índios, sua forma muscular, o formato do crânio, os hábitos sociais e morais foram analisados e comparados com mestiços e brancos. “Era uma antropologia física, completamente diferente da antropologia do século XX”, diz o biólogo Charbel Niño El-Hani, coordenador do Grupo de Pesquisa em História, Filosofia e Ensino de Ciências Biológicas da Universidade Federal da Bahia, que estudou o tema. “Havia um olhar sobre os indígenas diferente do que viria a ter Claude Lévi-Strauss várias décadas depois.”

© museu nacional

Ilustração de índio Tembé

A ideia do índio como fóssil vivo era considerada útil para estudar o passado do homem no Brasil e não causava a mesma repulsa provocada hoje, avalia a historiadora Márcia Ferraz, do Centro Simão Mathias de Estudos de História da Ciência da Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (Cesima/PUC-SP).“Aquela era a forma como se fazia ciência em todo o mundo, não só no Brasil”, explica Márcia. Os critérios científicos utilizados eram os da história natural, e não aqueles que as ciências sociais viriam a usar mais tarde.

A exposição ficou em cartaz durante três meses e foi considerada bem-sucedida por ter atraído mais de mil visitantes e causado alguma repercussão internacional. “Quem a visitou, no entanto, foi apenas a pequena elite do Rio daquele tempo, que era alfabetizada e interessada pelas novidades científicas”, conclui El-Hani.