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Our cross-disciplinary humanities research project Historicising Natures, Cultures and Laws in Etosha-Kunene proposes a multivocal and historical analysis that contributes new thinking on colonialism, indigeneity and ‘natural history’ in Namibia.


Funded through a new bilateral Humanities funding initiative of Research Councils in the UK and Germany, the project builds on international collaborations between Bath Spa University (UK), the University of Cologne (Germany) and the University of Namibia.

Our aim is to support laws and practice in biodiversity conservation to more fully recognise the diversity of pasts, cultures and natures constituting this internationally-valued region. 

Our project is supported by a Research Permit from Namibia's National Commission for Science, Technology and Research (NCRST) and began in February 2020. It is built around three core research questions, a set of six objectives, and six intersecting work packages.

Research questions

  • How can conservation of biodiversity-rich landscapes come to terms with the past [Vergangenheitsbewältigung], given historical contexts of extreme social exclusion and marginalisation?

  • How can key biodiversity areas whose global value rests on ahistorical ideas of Nature resist an uncritical presentism, to be better understood as entangled with diverse human histories and values?

  • How can conservation policy and practice recognise deep cultural and linguistic differences around ‘the nature of nature’?


We seek to provide historical and ethnographic depth to questions of contemporary concern regarding global reductions of biological and cultural-linguistic diversities, for a set of contiguous territories that are themselves of global significance in terms of biocultural diversity. Our overlapping objectives are thus to:

  1. amplify understanding and recognition of the globally-significant conservation territories of ‘Etosha-Kunene’ as entangled with diverse human histories and values, involving cultural and linguistic differences around ‘the nature of nature’ in these territories;

  2. connect, compare and extend ethnographic research with varied indigenous groupings of people with regard to natures-beyond-the-human in Etosha-Kunene;

  3. explore new methods and tools to represent, map, mediate and translate indigenous understandings and knowledges of the spaces and places comprising Etosha-Kunene, so as to support the recognition and representation of cultural diversity in conservation praxis;

  4. integrate people, places and histories into a dense “meshwork” for Etosha-Kunene conservation territories by compiling an environmental and cultural landscape history that attends to complexity through entwining and juxtaposing multiple data sources;

  5. contribute to a much-needed decolonisation of patriarchal-colonial thought regarding ‘the nature of nature’ through detailed analysis and deconstruction of how European colonial praxis objectified, collected and colonised both natures and cultures in Etosha-Kunene;

  6. support formal and institutional dimensions of environmental conservation policy and practice through creative compilation, publication and exchange of project analyses.

Work Packages (WP)
To meet our project objectives, we will use a combination of anthropology, history and geography research methods, as detailed for each Work Package (WP) below.

WP1 on Historicising Socio-ecological Policy in Etosha-Kunene offers a detailed discourse analysis and history of public conservation policy affecting natures and peoples associated with the region, interrogating shifting influences, interests and governance technologies;

WP2 on Comparative Indigenous Perspectives assembles our long-term research in the region into a new comparative analysis of indigenous Khoe, San and Himba-Herero understandings of natures-beyond-the-human, drawing on current theories in the anthropology of nature;

WP3 on Making Identity and Indigeneity in Etosha-Kunene explores how indigenous identities are made, focusing especially on how distinct and intersecting ‘Khoe’ and ‘San’ identities have been present(ed) in ethnographic, linguistic, conservation and legal discourse;

WP4 on Spatialising Coloniality in Etosha-Kunene (re)traces the thought and practices of selected colonial European actors from the mid-1800s, bringing their written narratives into conversation with indigenous interlocutors inhabiting the same places and spaces (see WP2);

WP5 on Collecting, Curating and Returning Etosha-Kunene Natures investigates how the natures of Etosha-Kunene have been both represented and shaped by natural history collections of specimen-artefacts assembled by the European actors we study in WP4;

WP6 focuses on Public Engagements, via a mobile exhibition, a website, and a series of workshops sharing and further exploring issues arising in WPs 1-5.

Our full Case for Support submitted in February 2019 is here, and can also be downloaded as a .pdf 


Our core research team of three women academics in Germany, the UK and Namibia has a combined 50+ years of ethnographic, archival, oral history and livelihoods enquiry in Etosha-Kunene. We are:

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