exploring cultural responses to environmental change
Inside the Museum
Welcome to the Museum of the Anthropocene, our student-led exploration of the role of specific objects and of material culture in this new planetary age.
Here you will find our growing selection of objects contributed by students of the Human Geography in the Anthropocene third-year undergraduate course at the University of East Anglia, each with their own short essay. Our latest six objects — which you will see first — come from the 2023 cohort, followed by an initial selection of eight pieces from previous students. We’ll be adding a new selection each year.
Please browse the collection, respond with your comments on any objects you find particularly interesting and share on social media.
There is a short introduction to the Museum of the Anthropocene where you can also find links to our posts from Dr Martin Mahony at UEA, introducing our annual selections from his Human Geography in the Anthropocene course. Please do leave comments there, on any aspect of the Museum project or the relevance of material culture to our understanding of the Anthropocene. And in our new Anthropocene Glossary, you can read short texts on some of the ideas introduced in our Museum of the Anthropocene objects.
If you’d like to explore examples of ClimateCultures members using different objects to investigate our relationships with the more-than-human world in this new, human-produced planetary age, do check out our series A History of the Anthropocene in 50 Objects.
Max Drabwell-Mcilwaine introduces the plantation garden as a marker of resistance to the Anthropocene's subjugation of both people and nature by colonisers, whose plantations strip places of variation and indigenous peoples of their social identity. In eras of enslavement, people nurtured biodiversity in private plots, fighting against the plantations' bio-normativity.
Reece Page proposes the lawn as Anthropocene object: this highly managed crop presents a clear contrast to intrinsic values of nature. An understated symbol of privileged living and suburban expansion with high environmental demands here on Earth, the lawn is also suggestive of future imaginations of the colonisation of space.
Josh Fowler suggests the pigeon as both the victim and the villain of the Anthropocene, acting at different times as symbols of colonialist extinction, of mass warfare and of relentless urbanisation and its aesthetics. A benefit when we needed them, a pest to be cast out now that we don’t.
Jake Kiddell shares the cotton t-shirt, representative of fashion clothing that has some of the shortest lifetimes ever known. Cotton helped start Britain's Industrial Revolution, with its 'ghost hectares' of colonial cotton plantations echoed today in environmental conditions of reduced water availability and quality where cotton is grown and processed.
Anna Wyeth offers Sweetgrass, a grass native to northern North America, where various indigenous communities have used it for hundreds of years in medicine, ritual burning of sacred herbs, and basket weaving. While industrial societies have detached from reciprocal relationships with nature, some indigenous knowledge systems demonstrate a mutual dependence.
Amelia Weatherall presents the Canary bird, a sentinel species co-opted into the global expansion of the industrial revolution. Employed up to the late 20th century as early warning systems in the often toxic atmospheres of coal mines around the world, canary birds saved thousands of human lives exposed alongside them.
Markus Martinez Burman presents Bishé, Zapotec poetry that's a legacy of a people and their pre-Columbian Mesoamerica empire. Colonized and subjugated, only touristic legacies of the Zapotec remain, the land exploited for neoliberal resource extraction: a forgotten land surrounded by Bishé, “a soul that is being taken by the devil.”
Jess Scragg explains how, originating in pagan religions and repurposed to celebrate Christianity, the Christmas tree has become a comforting image for many, becoming widespread with the Industrial Revolution and material accumulation. Mass production to fuel stimulated demand has led to 'commodity cities', which manufacture huge quantities of Christmas gifts.
Joanna Wanat's contribution of the Salviati Planisphere shows how 15th and 16th-century Europeans' creation of world maps, with large empty spaces inviting exploration of the 'New World', marked one possible start of the Anthropocene epoch and helps us to reflect on the global consequences of the ‘explore and conquer’ mentality.
Contributing a Native American Pocahontas 'fancy dress' costume to the Museum, Ruby Rae explores how the Columbian Exchange led to near eradication of cultures and ideals, and objectifying these concepts as a costume only enforces the victory of the colonisers and exacerbates a negative, historically selective concept of the Anthropocene.
Khilna Shuklaa contributes Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's 1953 satirical novel on the relationship between humans and technology, published in the early days of an era that promotes consumers as patriotic citizens. Fahrenheit 451's spectacle of book burning reminds us how easily our knowledge and identities can be reshaped or destroyed.
Alise Miluna contributes Space Junk. With over a million derelict human-made objects left circling our planet from the early days of the Cold War and multiplying every year, near-Earth orbit is a museum of space exploration since the beginning of the Great Acceleration, a candidate start date for the Anthropocene.
Jessica Parry offers Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide that reflects the intimate ways chemicals flow between ecologies and our bodies in the age of the Anthropocene and how the dominance of a small number of corporations on our global food supply promotes a standardised package of GM herbicide-resistant seeds, herbicides, and fertilisers.
Alex Stone offers the mirror, an object infused with meaning yet taken at face value. With modern narcissism a driving force of consumerism and the Anthropocene, where all we see in the mirror are the technofossils we wear as clothes or jewellery, the mirror is a tragedy of the commons.