Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Nature Before Resources: Evaluating Nature in Early Modern Empires

What was nature before it became a resource?

University of Warwick, December 15-16, 2022, in MB0.07, Mathematical Sciences Building

In-person attendance is encouraged, but online attendance is an option for those who are unable to attend in person. A link to the Teams meeting will be sent to registered participants before the event.

Registration for this event has now closed.

Organised by: Michael Bycroft (University of Warwick) and Samir Boumediene (École Normale Supérieure de Lyon).

This workshop addresses a paradox about early modern European imperialism. On the one hand, it is a commonplace that imperial projects in the period from roughly 1500 to 1800 were bound up with the exploitation of natural resources. On the other hand, the phrase 'natural resources' did not gain currency until well after 1800 in English and in other European languages.

This raises several questions. What existed in the European imagination before 'natural resources' took over as a shorthand for the valuable parts of the natural world? How were these ancestors of 'natural resources' bound up with imperial projects, whether of the commercial, territorial, or exploratory kind? How were conceptions of nature's value shaped by interactions between Europeans and the people they colonized, evangelized, traded with, or otherwise encountered? And to what extent did these encounters create the conditions for the modern concept of natural resources?

Since these questions are about the value of nature, we will focus on early modern means of evaluating the natural world. This includes concepts such as 'gift' and 'treasury', techniques such as assaying and surveying, and social roles such as the connoisseur and the inspector. The workshop comes at a time when the concept of natural resources is under pressure from alternatives such as natural capital, natural commons, and legal personhood, and when these rival conceptions of nature's value are linked to political projects on earth and in space.

Kircher earth

Click here for the full programme

Thursday December 15th

3:15-3:45: tea and coffee

3:45-5pm: keynote talk by Samir Boumediene (École Normale Supérieure de Lyon)

Treasuries: An Inquiry into the Nature of Wealth

5pm: festive drinks and nibbles

Friday December 16th

9:30am-5:30pm, talks by:

Vinita Damodaran (Sussex)

Antoine Duranton (Centre de Recherches Historiques, EHESS)

Sarah Easterby-Smith (St Andrews)

Gianamar Giovannetti-Singh (Cambridge)

Edwin Rose (Cambridge)

Claire Sabel (Pennsylvania)

Jean-Baptiste Vérot (Avignon/Montpellier)

Useful Links

This workshop has been made possible thanks to the kind and generous support of the IAS, the GHCC, and the Habitability GRP.

Contact Us:

Any questions? Please email Michael Bycroft at