LH.20.004 – The Living History of the Anthropocene: The Dutch as Social, Biological and Geological Agents, c. 1600 to the present

Route: Living history

Cluster question: 002 What do humans and nature mean to each other and what is the ideal relationship between the two?

The ‘Anthropocene’, or ‘the Age of Extinction’, challenges us to develop new awareness, attitudes, and practices. As significant geological and biological agents endangering the planet, we need to question cultural separations of the ‘social’ from the ‘natural’. This project aims to ‘decentre’ the human by investigating the Netherlands and its overseas territories since the 17th century as a complex system of mutual relations between humans, animals, and non-sentient entities. The project will involve researchers from the sciences and the humanities, and stakeholders in society, in research connecting the natural ‘archives’ of biological and geological data with the data in historical and archaeological human archives. We will explore what new representations and practices are possible that can be used to change awareness of how our cultural legacies and attitudes are entangled with nature. Historically, the Netherlands is seen as the first consumer society. This, together with its global role in trade and production, led to transformations of natural environments worldwide, with profound ecological and climatological consequences. Reversely, these global exploits shaped Dutch society. Themes to be investigated are: – consumer revolutions and their ‘telecouplings’ (interactions between distant systems) with the global movements and exploitation of raw materials, animals, plants and humans; – environmental effects of this new economy, including wildlife extinctions, the spread of new diseases, geophysical changes (e.g., climate change, erosion, desiccation), and new mutual arrangements between humans, animals, and plants; – entanglement of the ongoing ‘commodification’ of nature with cultural beliefs and expressions (including art and science) about Dutch self-awareness and national identity. The project will produce an Anthropocene whitepaper for citizens, educators and policymakers. This whitepaper is meant to serve as a knowledge base for awareness-raising activities and practices we need to survive the Age of Extinction and to reposition ourselves beyond the society-nature dichotomy.


Anthropocene, Earth system, Environmental history, Policy perspectives

Other organisations

Digital Society School, Hogeschool van Amsterdam, Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Plastic Soup Foundation, The Ocean Cleanup, VSC (Vereniging van wetenschapsmusea en science centers)


Organisation Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities, Utrecht University (UU)
Name Dr. Stephen Snelders
E-mail s.a.m.snelders@uu.nl
Website https://www.uu.nl/descartes-centre