Human Nature Dictionary

Gurstacle (Moose on Road, Human in Vehicle), 2021. Oil on cotton oil paper. 8¾ x 15½ in. Created as an illustration for gurstacle in the Human Nature Dictionary

The Human Nature Dictionary is an inclusive, open-content, creative project to which all are welcome to contribute words, images, and definitions that describe how human activity and nature unintentionally intersect, interact, or merge. The Dictionary is part of my and others’ on-going effort to catalyze a reconsideration of humans’ relationship to the natural world. It proposes to create new language that shows that humans and nature are part of the same pan-natural system, and that our fates are inextricably intertwined.

The Dictionary exists in multiple forms, including as a wiki I maintain, and to which all are invited to contribute new words and definitions. The online version of the Human Nature Dictionary currently includes more than 300 new words and phrases with their definitions coined by people from all walks of life from 2016 through the present. Many of these words are illustrated with drawings, photographs, and paintings made by contributors.

The Human Nature Dictionary also exists as a physical environment centered around the Human Nature Field Desk — a portable steel desk, vintage chair, plant surface, found deer bones, plastic animals, nature and environmental dictionaries, clipboards, pens, and hand-made dictionary cover — which I have transported to many different places for word-coining sessions with people of all ages. The desk and some of these sessions are documented below.

Freedom Baird talking with a family visiting the Human Nature Field Desk, Fox Festival, Arlington, MA, June 17, 2017. Photo by Cecily Miller
Visitors participating in the Human Nature Dictionary project with artist Freedom Baird (seated), at the Human Nature Field Desk, Fox Festival, Arlington, MA. June 17, 2017. Photo by Cecily Miller

These newly coined words emphasize that humans are part of nature, not separate.  Visit the online version of the Human Nature Dictionary to learn more about the project and browse the words!

Human Nature Dictionary Field Desk, 2016. Freedom Baird. Steel field desk, vintage chair, living thyme, found deer bones, plastic animals, nature and environmental dictionaries, clipboards, pens, hand-made bioplastic dictionary cover
Participants coining new words at the Human Nature Field Desk, at the Somerville AgriCultural Festival at ArtFarm, October 1, 2016. Photo by Freedom Baird
Shore Line Recall at Houghs Neck Nut Island, Quincy, MA - Freedom Baird
Visitor participating in Shore Line Recall on the pier at Houghs Neck, Nut Island, Quincy MA, July 2018

I also used the Human Nature Field Desk as part of the Shore Line Recall project during a summer 2018 artist residency on the Boston Harbor Islands. The project was the genesis of my first book, Shore Line Recall: Boston Harbor Islands.

Human Nature Dictionary, 2016. Freedom Baird. Cover made from handmade banana-peel starch bioplastic.
Cover of the print version of the Human Nature Dictionary, made of banana peel starch bioplastic

I have also presented the Human Nature Dictionary in print form at times. The cover is made from banana peel starch plastic, which I synthesized at home, from banana peels, lemon juice, and sodium metabisulfite. The banana peel bioplastic recipe was developed by Turkish high school student, Elif Bilgin.

Human Nature Dictionary Field Desk, 2016. Freedom Baird. Steel field desk, vintage chair, living thyme, found deer bones, plastic animals, nature and environmental dictionaries, clipboards, pens, hand-made bioplastic dictionary cover
The Human Nature Dictionary Field Desk installed in the Bakalar Gallery at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design for the MFA Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition, summer 2016
Human Nature Dictionary Field Desk, 2016. Freedom Baird. Steel field desk, vintage chair, living thyme, found deer bones, plastic animals, nature and environmental dictionaries, clipboards, pens, hand-made bioplastic dictionary cover
The Human Nature Dictionary Field Desk comes equipped with a living surface of plants, a collection of deer bones, plastic animals, environmental and nature dictionaries, and clipboards and pens for coining new words
Human Nature Dictionary Field Desk, 2016. Freedom Baird. Steel field desk, vintage chair, living thyme, found deer bones, plastic animals, nature and environmental dictionaries, clipboards, pens, hand-made bioplastic dictionary cover
A participant coining a new word at the Somerville AgriCultural Festival at ArtFarm, October 1, 2016

Visit the online version of the Human Nature Dictionary to browse the new words and learn about the project!