Endangerment and Its Consequences: Documenting and Preserving Nature and Culture

The notion of endangerment stands at the heart of a network of concepts, values and practices dealing with entities considered threatened by extinction or destruction, as well as with the procedures aimed at gathering data about them, and preserving them as far as possible.

The perception of endangerment drives the constitution of documentary devices, such as archives, catalogues, databases and atlases, which embody different forms of knowledge, but share a memorializing urge. Often animated by a sense of urgency and citizenship, identifying and cataloguing endangered entities involves evaluating the intensity of the impending threat and opens the way for preservation strategies. Both evaluation and preservation, however, often imply conflicts of interest and interpretation. For example, the politics of whaling are riddled by scientific uncertainty over population estimates, the effects of environmental change, maximum sustainable yield levels, and the monitoring of catches. Disputes about uncertainty itself play an essential role in negotiations among scientists, conservationists, traditional hunters, and the whaling industry; and it is these negotiations that shape policy and, return, contribute to shape science.

By focusing on “endangerment” – with its suffix signifying the action of putting something in danger – the Working Group Endangerment and Its Consequences seeks to examine the construction of data deemed significant, the kind of knowledge such data constitutes, the epistemic and institutional structures into which it is organized, the affects that permeate it, and the moral and epistemic values it incarnates. The Working Group Endangerment and Its Consequences is part of the project Sciences of the Archive in Department II at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

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