Louis Agassiz and the Classification of Brazil’s Fish

Drawing of "Sudis Pirarueú" from Agassiz et al., Selecta Genera et Species Piscium Brasiliensium, Tabula XVI.

Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) was a young student at the University of Munich when Johann von Spix and Carl Friedrich von Martius returned from their expedition to Brazil. Among the many items and specimens the German naturalists brought back were fish. The methodology they had followed on their journey through what was then part of the Portuguese Empire was typical of naturalists in the field: They observed, collected, and in some cases classified. Then, back in Europe, they studied the amassed material. Their journey through the exuberant and unfamiliar natural environment had lasted three years (1817–1820). In this geographical and temporal context, the fish and marine species were rarities that few scientists could address with authority within the framework of European natural history. The observant naturalists were nonetheless able to classify species unknown in Europe while also learning about these species’ natural environments.

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Blogging Histories of Knowledge in the Context of Digital History

A little article about this blog that I wrote with Kerstin von der Krone is now open access. See “Blogging Histories of Knowledge in Washington, D.C.,” in “Digital History,” ed. Simone Lässig, special issue, Geschichte und Gesellschaft 47, no. 1 (2021): 163–74. The abstract reads:

The authors reflect on their experiences as the founding editors of the History of Knowledge blog. Situating the project in its specific institutional, geographical, and historiographical contexts, they highlight its role in scholarly communication and research alongside journals and books in a research domain that is still young, especially when viewed from an international perspective. At the same time, the authors discuss the blog’s role as a tool for classifying and structuring a corpus of work as it grows over time and as new themes and connections emerge from the contributions of its many authors.

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Six Calls That Caught Our Attention

Conference: What Makes a Philosopher Good or Bad? Intellectual Virtues and Vices in the History of Philosophy. Utrecht University, November 25–26, 2021. Proposal deadline: August 21, 2021.

Conference: Professorial Career Patterns Reloaded – Data, Methods and Analysis of Digital Humanities Research in the Field of Early Modern Academic History. Herzog August Library, Wolfenbüttel, and HTWK Leipzig, October 27–28, 2021 with Pre-Workshop/Hackathon on October 20–21. Proposal deadline: September 3, 2021.

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Germans Go Subtropical: Migration and the Quest for Environmental-Climatic Knowledge in South America

German migration in subtropical South America began in the early nineteenth century. It lasted for almost 150 years and shaped one of the most extensive projects of transnational forest colonization and global agricultural exchange in history. This experience catalyzed the formation of different bodies of knowledge, many of them currently either lost or “fugitive,” as Glenn Penny characterizes German migrant knowledge in Central America.

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A Seminar about Information History: Why?

On May 18th, I hosted a seminar about information history, a topic that seems to have gained momentum in recent years. My interest in information as a historical phenomenon began as an attempt to inquire into the prehistory of the Danish public libraries.1 For some years, I have also had a strong interest in the history of knowledge. Framing things this way might cause readers to think that I assume clear and evident differences between the two. I am, however, much more interested in how they supplement each other than in how I can characterize each as a unique field. It is no secret that the history of knowledge has gained quite a different resonance within history than information history has experienced.

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The Dr. Seuss Controversy and the Serious Business of Curating Knowledge of the World for Children

On March 2, 2021, the 117th birthday of Theodor Geisel, the children’s book author and illustrator behind the Dr. Seuss pseudonym, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that it would “cease publication and licensing” of six titles in its collection because the listed books “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”1 A new battle in the political culture wars ensued, with cries of “cancel culture” exploding in the conservative media.2

But who is Dr. Seuss? And why did this action provoke such controversy?

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Online Seminar: Bureaucracy as Knowledge

History of Knowledge Seminar Series @ Utrecht University
“Bureaucracy as Knowledge” with Christine von Oertzen (MPIWG, Berlin) and Sebastian Felten (University of Vienna)

Thursday, June 10, 2021, 15:30-17:00 (CET)
Online via Microsoft Teams (registration not required)

Bureaucracy was a term of critique that in Europe around 1900 became an analytical concept for world-historical comparison, most prominently in the work of Max Weber. Against this background, the multi-authored publication Histories of Bureaucratic Knowledge develops a non-Weberian approach of analysing bureaucratic procedures as knowledge processes, a method we term “bureaucracy as knowledge.” This approach builds on historical epistemology and aims to recover actors’ ways of organising social and natural world rather than to judge them by modernist, Western standards. We found surprising similarities across our cases, such as the use of questionnaires in the medieval Latin West and in colonial German New Guinea, or of calendars in the Ottoman Empire and Central Europe.

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