A History of the Anthropocene in 50 Objects

The Anthropocene – the suggested Age of Human that our species has initiated – has a complex past, present and future, and there are many versions. What three objects evoke the unfolding of human-caused environmental and climate change for you?

The TippingPoint events I took part in asked each of us to come with an object in mind – any object with a personal significance relating to what climate change meant to us and which we wanted to share with others. Many of us brought the physical object – something discovered on a walk or holiday or bought in a charity shop, a book from our shelves or a family heirloom – while others brought photos that captured a landscape, a moment, something experienced or something lost. Sharing these and the stories behind them in small groups, we built up a store of associations between the personal, the small or the incidental and the larger, unbounded complex of meanings that make ‘climate change’ what it is. Sharing in others’ stories enriched our own.

Remembering the feelings that this exercise evoked for me every time (I was fortunate enough to experience it with four different groups), I’m also reminded of the groundbreaking Radio 4 series, A History of the World in 100 Objects. Neil MacGregor, then Director of the British Museum, described each object, the stories of the different cultures and times they represented since the beginnings of human culture, and what it meant to the world that came after and to who we are as a species. But what those episodes mostly lacked, for obvious reasons, was the very personal story of us as individuals, here and now. This is what the TippingPoint exercise brought.

Light into the Dark
Photographer: Mark Goldthorpe © 2017

Your personal Anthropocene

Here is a space to share our stories about objects that have that personal resonance. You can reprise an object you shared at TippingPoint if you took part in one of their events, or you can offer a new one for the collection. It can be anything you choose, just describe in up to 800 words per object what it is, how it ‘came’ to you (or you to it) and what it means for you in terms of environmental or climate change or the wider questions of the Anthropocene. If you have an image or sound to share, you can include these too.

And to add an extra twist, I’m asking you to share three objects, not just one. To illustrate your personal history of the Anthropocene, as well as offering an object from your own experience, please also offer one from the past (any time from whenever you think of as the birth of the Anthropocene right up to just before your own birth), and one from a future time (for as long as you think the Anthropocene might last…). The past object could be something you’ve only heard of, something that you’ve seen or touched, or it could be imaginary (what might have been the first ever musical instrument, not yet discovered or understood as musical). Your future object might be imaginary, or a future encounter with a relic of the past. What links all three is your associations with them and that they have meaning and emotional significance for you.

Put each object in the same post, but the order is up to you. You can start with the present, if you wish, and then move back before you take your imaginative leap into the future. Or start in the future and work backwards… Finally, do connect their stories through an imaginary timeline that connects your versions of past, present and future.

Every (UK based) author of a personal History of the Anthropocene in Three Objects that appears here in ClimateCultures’ collection of 50 Objects will receive a personally recommended free book! As I browse the shelves of my local Oxfam and other charity bookshops, I often rediscover books that have been important in my exploration of environmental and climate change over the years. Now I have an excuse to buy a second copy and pass on a personal favourite work of fiction, history, science, politics or art… I’ll post my own review of the book here on ClimateCultures; and if the recipient likes my choice (or not), there’s an invitation to share their review too.

I kicked off the series with my own personal history of the Anthropocene, which you can see below along with new contributions to the series from ClimateCultures authors. 

Find out more:

You can explore the BBC Radio series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, hereNeil MacGregor’s book of the series is published by Penguin.

You can visit the Museum of Fossil Fuels here at the excellent Happy Museum Project. Submit an object of your own there too, and explore what others have offered. You can see my contribution here.

The BBC World Service series 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy is also well worth exploring.

You can also read about BBC Radio 4’s The Museum of Curiosity on Wikipedia, with links to the weird and wonderful mix of objects discussed, and purchase or listen to episodes here

Nick Drake’s Personal History of the Anthropocene – Three Objects #9

16 November 2018 – approx reading time: 5 minutes

Poet Nick Drake’s contribution coincides with his new collection Out of Range — which itself brilliantly explores the strange interconnections and confronting emergencies of our new planetary age. Nick has chosen three of these powerful poems to share with us, showing: objects that have illuminated our world-shifting ways even as their own time faded; one-use objects that will outlast us; nightmare objects that take shape beneath our feet, beneath our streets, beneath our notice, until…

Sarah Dry’s Personal History of the Anthropocene – Three Objects #8

5 Feb 2018 – approx reading time: 7 minutes

Science historian and writer Sarah Dry’s personal selection and the images she has chosen to illustrate her objects strike a particular chord with the former astronomy student in me; and these three objects speak of the gap between seeing and feeling.

Nancy Campbell’s Personal History of the Anthropocene – Three Objects #7

22 Jan 2018 – approx reading time: 8 minutes

Poet Nancy Campbell’s choice of objects demonstrate how past and present elide as our environment changes and how, whatever choices lie ahead, travel is always forward. As we approach the half-way point in our collections, each of the seven selections so far illustrate how each take on the relationship between humanity and the more-than-human is personal, nuanced and powerful. There is more than enough Anthropocene to go around.

Veronica Sekules’s Personal History of the Anthropocene – Three Objects #6

15 Jan 2018 – approx reading time: 5 minutes

Curator Veronica Sekules’s personal contribution of three Anthropocene objects charts our species’ shifting relationship with the planet. Art, artefact and accidental discovery mark our place in the world within a movement from a visionary symbol of eternity to the hubris of a transitory age and on to a time which will be witnessed by what endures after us.

Nick Hunt’s Personal History of the Anthropocene – Three Objects #5

29 Nov 2017 – approx reading time: 6 minutes

Writer Nick Hunt’s contribution of three objects traces one path from our present into a future which he reminds us will not stay forever on any one course. He returns us to a longer view, of a past which honours the power and beauty of natural forms – the human and more-than-human.

Ruth Garde’s Personal History of the Anthropocene – Three Objects #4

12 Oct 2017 – approx reading time: 5 minutes 

Curator Ruth Garde’s selection of three artworks evokes a sense of past, present and future that highlights how Deep Time and ‘human time’ are implicated in each other, and the imbalances in our relationship with the rest of nature that are produced by our culture of neglecting Deep Time. I’m grateful to have been introduced to these three artists.

Jennifer Leach’s Personal History of the Anthropocene – Three Objects #3

27 Jun 2017 – approx reading time: 3 minutes

Artist Jennifer Leach’s selection of three objects evokes a past, a present and a future highlights care and nurture as constants across humanity’s ages and communities, and her words move from prose to poetry with an ease that makes for a timeline of hope.

Julien Masson’s Personal History of the Anthropocene – Three Objects #2

16 May 2017 – approx reading time: 2 minutes

Artist Julien Masson offers an intriguing selection: his personal contribution to A History of the Anthropocene in 50 Objects.

Mark Goldthorpe’s Personal History of the Anthropocene – Three Objects #1

22 Mar 2017 – approx reading time: 8 minutes

I set ClimateCultures Members a challenge: share your choice of three objects that have personal significance for you and that say something of the past, present and future of the emerging ‘Age of Human’. Here is my personal contribution to A History of the Anthropocene in 50 Objects.

Know something we should?

Do you know of a book, article, podcast, video, site, artwork or other resource that explores the significance and role of objects in our understanding of environmental and climate change? Use the Contact Form to send your suggestions and a link and a few words on what about it has inspired you.


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