Symptoms of the Jet Age: Global Air Mobility and Disease Control in the 1960s

"United Air Lines DC-6 and DC-6B Mainliners 1950s,” via 1950sUnlimited on Flicker with some rights reserved (CC BY 2.0)

Soon after the global SARS outbreaks in 2003, and many years before the current novel coronavirus pandemic led to a historically unique shutdown of global air traffic, health experts anticipated the vital role air connections would play in the likely event of a worldwide zoonotic pandemic. In 2006, for example, the chief doctor at Frankfurt Airport observed, “In the context of globalization, we in Europe must assume that infection outbreaks on other continents will within 14–24 hours pose a considerable threat to our German population.”1 For medical and global historians, past relations between air traffic, plagues, and health policies present a promising, still largely unexplored research topic.2 Stranded last spring due to a COVID-19 flight ban myself, I started wondering how experts in epidemiology and sanitary control reacted to the rise of mass air travel. How did health experts cope with the breakthrough of the jet age in the 1960s and what were their strategies against the spread of contagious diseases by airplanes?

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Affordable Civilization: Education Reform, Textbook Piracy, and the Question of ‘New Knowledge’ in Modern China

Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, as the intensified Western aggressions expedited the Qing Empire’s decline, Chinese sociocultural elites started to question the value and relevance of their traditional knowledge system. Believing knowledge to be the secret behind the rise of the Western powers, these elites avidly consumed so-called New Learning (xinxue), that is, general, mostly Western knowledge that was new and foreign for China.1 Importing, translating, and reading books containing Western knowledge were deemed urgent tasks, crucial to the survival of China. As the renowned reformer Liang Qichao (1873–1929) put it, “if a nation wants to strengthen itself, it should translate more Western books; if a student wants to stand on his own feet, he should read more Western books.”2

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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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Explain Yourself: Visual Communication in Early Modern Printed Calendars

Bottom rows of the calendar showing the symbols and the user's handwriting.

There is a curious subgenre of printed calendars in early modern Europe called Bauernkalender. Bauer in German refers to a farmer or peasant, so we might literally translate the name of this genre as “farmers’ calendars” or “peasant calendars.” That is not to say they are in any way simple. You know one when you see it because they are all highly iconographic, largely replacing text with image. In fact, the submission of text to image is so severe as to render an individual edition nearly incomprehensible to any reader without a specific kind of tacit cultural knowledge. Therefore, Bauernkalender demonstrate the potentially unsteady relationship between a material text and its ostensibly intended audience. Bauernkalender are not unique in this manner—among almanac calendars, or among any printed editions for that matter—but they are unusual.

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Debating New Approaches to Histories of the Sciences

All are invited to attend the online symposium “Debating New Approaches to Histories of the Sciences,” organized as part of the History of Knowledge Seminar Series @ Utrecht University.

Friday, May 21, 2021, 9:30–17:30 CET
Online via Microsoft Teams (registration not required)

Recent decades have seen the emergence of a number of promising new approaches to the historical study of the sciences. All share the goal of understanding scientific thinking and practice as historical phenomena, but each does so in its own distinctive way: created against different backgrounds and in response to different problem situations within and outside academia they orient themselves around different themes, topics and perspectives. This raises the issue of whether and if so, how, these approaches could best collaborate.

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Knowledge as an Object of Historical Research

Nearly two years ago, Shadi Bartsch tweeted five tenets for understanding knowledge that now appear the on website of the center she directs at the University of Chicago, namely the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge. These tenets deserve further elucidation and discussion, a process I'd like to begin on this blog, starting at the end:

  1. Knowledge at any given time is exactly equal to what people think is true. As such, sub-knowledges, unauthoritative knowledges, and disputed knowledges can all exist simultaneously inasmuch as “people” is a plural concept.

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‘The Political and the Epistemic’ in ‘KNOW’

The Fall 2020 issue of KNOW focuses on a specific theme: "The Political and the Epistemic in the Twentieth Century: Historical Perspectives." Emphasizing the first half of the twentieth century, in particular, guest editors Kijan Espahangizi and Monika Wulz point to an emerging "politicized understanding of scientific inquiry" in the interwar period, which "shaped a new social epistemology." (163) The starting point for the contributors to this issue is the interrelation between "heated disputes over the political and economic foundations of society" and the equally contested and pressing debates about "the role of knowledge in society and the economy." (163) The payoff:

By analyzing histories of antagonistic and competitive forms of knowledge, it becomes possible to paint a more detailed picture of not only the relations between the epistemic and the political but also of the inherently political strategies involved in the boundary work of knowledge regimes. (166)

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Call: History of Intellectual Culture

Charlotte A. Lerg, Johan Östling, and Jana Weiß are editing a new open-access publication called the History of Intellectual Culture: International Yearbook of Knowledge and Society (HIC), which will be published by De Gruyter Oldenbourg. The first issue is planned for the spring/summer of 2022, and they are seeking contributions in the history of knowledge. See the call for further details. Proposal deadline: May 17, 2021. Article submission: September 6, 2021.