Unicorns, although they are non-existent, are ubiquitous today as symbols. For example, they remain the national animal of Scotland, first added to the Scottish coat of arms in the 1500s to represent the untamable, proud nature of Scotland. Unicorns also intrigued ancient, medieval, and early modern authors who wrote about these imaginary animals and how they interacted with their environments. Long before the Scottish adoption of the unicorn, these writers infused the animal with spiritual meanings similar to those that later appealed to the Scots: the unicorn was proud, fierce, and pure. Continue reading “Unicorns: Knowledge of the Environment and the Hispanic Mediterratlantic”
Editorial note: The editors wish to acknowledge that the date of this post about risk cultures, highlighting the example of fire-fighting technologies, marks the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which took the lives of so many firefighters and other first responders. While we often honor the people involved in emergency response, we frequently forget to also analyze the constraints of modern risk cultures.
When Ulrich Beck published Risk Society in 1986, the sociologist could have hardly known how influential his work would become for scholars studying risk. The idea that industrial modernity undermined itself through the very means of technological advancement proved exceptionally relevant. At the time of publication, chemical industries and nuclear energy presented paramount environmental and societal challenges.1 Continue reading “Exploring Histories of Risk and Knowledge”
My book Underground Mathematics tells the story of a discipline that has been forgotten today, subterranean geometry. Known as “the art of setting limits” (Markscheidekunst) in German and geometria subterranea in Latin, it developed in the silver mines of early modern Europe. From the Ore Mountains of Saxony to the Harz, in many mining cities in the Holy Roman Empire and beyond, an original culture of accuracy and measurement developed, paving the way for many technical and scientific innovations.
Who do fossils belong to? The question is far from new: in various guises, it has preoccupied paleoscientists, museum curators, and occasionally officials for many years, although ongoing debates about the decolonization of science and natural history collections have renewed its significance. For my childhood self, the answer would have been simple: fossils belong to anyone who cares to be enchanted and educated by them. Adult life is undoubtedly more complicated. Here, I begin to sketch an answer with a reminder of what is at stake. As remnants of past geological ages, plant and animal fossils often belong to a time when the Earth’s physical geography was markedly different from now, to say nothing of its geopolitical organization. That their ownership matters today clearly indicates how science and politics intersect: fossils provide a scientific lens through which to investigate the deep past, but they also help to weave that past into the politics of the present and the making of the future.Continue reading “Owning the (Deep) Past: Paleontological Knowledge and the Political Afterlives of Fossils”
I have in my dayes seene a hundred Artificers, and as many laborers, more wise and more happy, then some Rectors in the university, and whom I would rather resemble.1Michel de Montaigne
Traveling zoos were a common and very popular form of entertainment in the long nineteenth century. Also known as menageries, they were large companies that moved around with various exotic wild species such as lions, tigers, and elephants. For young and old alike, it was often the first and only time they got to see these impressive quadrupeds. Even though they were considered mainly a form of traveling entertainment at funfairs, I will show that itinerant zoos were also an important hub for the circulation of various forms of knowledge.
Foreword to the special issue of the European Journal of Jewish Studies 16, no. 1 (2022)
Editors’ Note: As the History of Knowledge blog aims to facilitate scholarly exchange related to the field, the editors wish to highlight this recent special issue about “Kabbalah and Knowledge Transfers in Early Modernity” by reproducing the editors’ foreword here with the permission of Brill, the journal’s publisher. The foreword explains the history of knowledge perspective that the contributors applied to the translations, revisions, and appropriations of kabbalistic texts from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and provides a brief introduction to the nine articles in the issue. Parts of the special issue are available in “free access” here.