Integrating the History and Philosophy of Biodiversity

Narratives of Diversity, Extinction, Conflict and Value

Museum of Natural Sciences, Brussels, October 20–21*, 2023

‘Biodiversity’ is something of a paradox: a contested concept philosophically, historically, and scientifically, yet one almost universally considered to be a precious natural resource worth protecting. As a shorthand for biological diversity, the concept has been part of crucial changes in the history of the life sciences, where theoretical developments have been entangled with cultural anxieties about extinction and degradation. With its many lives, researchers in the history and philosophy of science, as well as in neighbouring fields, will likely agree that ‘biodiversity’ is not an unmediated representation of nature. As with its densely value-laden cousin of ‘variety,’ biodiversity has come to pervade our discourse about the protection of nature, finding itself not only in conservation hotspots in the tropical rainforests, but also in frozen seed banks, in temperate forests, in governmental agencies, in university departments, and in activist fanzines.

Preliminary Schedule

October 20

9h30–9h45: Registration, Welcome and Coffee

9h45–10h: Conference Welcome

Charles Pence

10h–11h: “Biodiversity Past, Present, and Future: Are We in a Sixth Mass Extinction?”

Keynote: David Sepkoski (University of Illinois)

(Abstract coming soon!)

Prof. Sepkoski is the Thomas M. Siebel Chair in History of Science at the University of Illinois.

11h–11h30: “What is ‘evidence’ in evidence-based biodiversity conservation? Potential, Actual, and Good Evidence in IUCN’s Red List”

Federica Bocchi (Boston University)

11h30–11h40: Coffee Break

11h40–12h10: “Species Conservation, Classificatory Risk, and Adequacy-for-Purpose”

Joeri Witteveen (University of Copenhagen)

12h10–12h40: “The Role of Conceptual Models in Ecosystem Conservation: Motivations and Challenges”

Michael Bennett McNulty, Max Dresow, and Lauren Wilson (University of Minnesota)

12h40–14h: Lunch Break

14h–14h30: “From Species Richness to Multidimensional Biodiversity Change: Epistemological and Conceptual Shifts in Biodiversity Research”

Robert Frühstückl (University of Bielefeld)

14h30–15h: “Opening the Climate Envelope: The History of Climate Envelope Models, 1970–2010”

Oliver Lucier (Yale University)

15h–15h15: Coffee Break

15h15–15h45: “African Mammals as Cultural Heritage: On Biodiversity in the Age of Decolonization”

Erika Lorraine Milam (Princeton University)

15h45–16h15: “Rewilding Between Recolonization and Re-Indigenization: Place-Based Rewilding as a Pathway for Coexistence”

Linde De Vroey (University of Antwerp)

16h15–16h45: “Royal Monopolies and the Ineffective Colonial Conservation of the Brazilwood Tree (1500–1570)”

Séan Thomas Kane (Binghamton University)

16h45–17h: Coffee Break

17h–17h30: “Fiction Film and the Construction of Visual Socio-Cultural Spaces for Biodiversity”

Carlos Tabernero (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

17h30–18h: “Sightings: The Role of Ghost Species in Accounting Biodiversity Loss”

Xinyue Liu (University of Oxford)

October 21

10h–10h15: Arrival and Coffee

10h15–10h45: “Artifice and Biodiversity in the Greenhouse: Unruly Plants and Complicated Climates in Early Nineteenth-Century France and England”

Tamara Caulkins (Central Washington University)

10h45–11h: Coffee Break

11h–11h30: “Pay Attention to the Shaved Bumblebee Behind the Curtain: Debiasing Field Collection of Biodiversity Samples”

Carlos Santana (University of Pennsylvania)

11h30–12h30: The Meta-Research Toolkit for Ecology and Conservation

Keynote: Alkistis Elliot-Graves (University of Bielefeld)

Prof. Elliott-Graves is Junior-Professor of Philosophy at Bielefeld University.
12h30–14h: Lunch Break

14h–14h30: “From Reduction to Preservation: A Long History of Genetic Biodiversity in Farmed Pigs (France, 1850–2000)”

Clémence Gadenne-Rosfelder (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales [EHESS])

14h30–15h: “Laboratory Work as Conservation: American Lab Scientists, Extinction, and the Proper Use of Chimpanzees, 1945–1980”

Brigid Prial (University of Pennsylvania)

15h–15h30: “Epistemic Conflicts over Conservation by Algorithm and the Purpose of Social Science”

Matt Przemyslaw Lukacz (Harvard University)

15h30–15h45: Coffee Break

15h45–16h15: “A Conceptual History of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, 1986–1997”

Julia Nordblad (Uppsala University)

16h15–16h45: “Disease as a Silver Lining? The Troubled History of Biodiversity and Health in the Upper Guinean Forests of West Africa”

Shadrach Kerwillian and Gregg Mitman (Ludwig Maximilian University)

16h45–17h: Conference Goodbye

Charles Pence and Max Bautista Perpinyà

Practical Information


The conference will take place over two days, October 20 and 21*, 2023, in the Museum of Natural Sciences, Brussels.

The Museum of Natural Sciences is extremely centrally located in Brussels, Belgium, which is served by air via Brussels Airport (BRU) as well as fast rail connections from London (Eurostar), Paris (Thalys and TGV), Amsterdam (Thalys, Eurostar, and NS), and Aachen/Köln (DB ICE). The train station of Bruxelles-Luxembourg is a 450m walk, and the historic city center of Brussels is around 2km away. See also the museum’s page on site access for further directions.

Museum Tour

For those who are able to stay for the morning of October 22, we are still working on arrangements for a museum tour. Watch this space! We hope to have more details over the summer.


We have arranged lodging with the Hotel du Congrès in downtown Brussels. It is in a lovely neighborhood close to the center of the city, around twenty-five minutes’ walk from the event venue, or 20 minutes on public transport. If you would like to take advantage of this rate, please contact the hotel directly, either by phone at +32 2 217 18 90, or at Mention that you are with the colloquium arranged by Max Bautista, and that you would like the special rates. Rooms should be €145/night for a single room and €165/night for a double room for single use (both with breakfast included). Please send your inquiry by the 5th of September to receive this pricing.

Sponsors and Partners

Thanks to the following organizations:

Fonds de la recherchescientifique (FNRS, Wallonie, Belgique) Museum of Natural Sciences, Brussels

Other Information