Museum Manifesto. What the future without nature?

About the role of, and the need for, natural history in contemporary societies. Fake news, conspiracy theories and suspicion: in the face of obscurantism, Natural history offers a rational world vision. It is based on observation, and prompts us to think of humanity as members of a huge natural ecosystem that it must learn to live with. This manifesto charts a way towards building a desirable future.

Fleur et bouton séchés dans un herbier, présentant des graines en aigrettes comme chez le pissenlit.

Tragopogon porrifolius L. Asteraceae, Planche des herbier Mercurin (1951)


Natural history is “ natural ” in the widest meaning of the word, as it observes, characterises and names the worlds of minerals, plants and animals, including the biological and social aspects of humanity. However, it is also “ History ”, both in the original sense of listing what actually exists, and in the modern sense of the word, whereby it retraces changes over time since the origins of the Earth

As such, Natural history is a complex science, which describes things and the way in which they interact at every level (molecular, astronomical, social, etc.) in order to understand how they are organised. To do so, it draws on other scientific disciplines, from mathematics to physics, via social sciences, agronomy and philosophy, and distils knowledge acquired throughout society: its observations are a source of technological inspiration; Velcro, for example; or medical, such as antibiotics, but also lay the foundations for ethical and political thought.

Couverture du livre Manifeste Quel futur sans nature ?

Museum Manifesto. What the future without nature ?

  • Co-publication by the French National Museum of Natural History / Reliefs Éditions
  • Auteurs : a collective headed by Guillaume Lecointre, zoologist, taxonomist and Museum professor
  • Bilingual French / English
  • 2017
  • 84 p.
  • 7.50 €
Minéral aux teintes pourpres, rosées et blanches.

Rhodochrosite, collection Caillois

© MNHN - F. Farges

The nature dictionary

For Natural History, collections need to be put together in botanical gardens and zoos, museums and protected natural areas. With each technological advance, such as DNA sequencing, these archives need to be constantly revisited. These collections constitute a repository that serves as a basis for scientific knowledge and rational thinking about the evolution of species, population dynamics and the role played by humans.

The museums developed around these collections raise awareness among the general public of their origins in the natural world, nurture their ability to reason and understand, invite them to appreciate their impact on, and responsibility for, the planet’s evolution. Thus, museums are a response to the need to “ root humans in nature ”. We should therefore “ work to ensure that in France, science, and particularly Natural history, are part of the culture ” and enhance teaching in its key disciplines of zoology, botany, microbiology, palaeontology, geology,anthropology and ethnology.

Illustration d'un cactus surmonté d'une fleur rose et d'un fruit.

Cactus cochenillifer, Opuntia cochenillifera, Peinture sur vélin, par Pierre-Joseph Redouté, (circa 1797-1798)


Reconciling humans and nature

The practice of Natural history deserves investment in the facilities that it uses (collections, laboratories, analysis equipment, observatories and museums), as it plays an essential role in providing expert appraisal of our ever more complex and interconnected societies. “ Because it is also a way of looking at complexity, it is one way of rationally looking at the short- or medium-term consequences [of ever faster innovations] on society and on biodiversity ”.

Thus, Natural history sheds light on the debates that need to be had on synthetic biology, intensive farming and forestry practices, the future of nuclear waste and the conservation of species.

As these political choices are the key to a desirable future based on “ a new kind of sustainable interaction in which humans […] will know how to reintegrate themselves into nature in a way that is less all-conquering ”.

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