What the History of Astronomy Can Teach Us about the Unknown

Humanity has long wished to know the universe. This desire has been present in nearly every civilization, culture, or community of human beings. Knowing the universe has always been extremely challenging, notwithstanding diverse approaches to the task—scientific reasoning, ancestral respect, the identification and worship of divinities, to name but a few. Nevertheless, there is a common gesture when we connect to the universe. No matter in what time or place, humans look up to the stars and wonder. We exhibit a common attitude as well, overwhelmed by how much we do not know about our own universe.

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Knowledge Notes: Calls

Knowledge is not explicitly referenced in the following four calls, but their cultural and practice-oriented framings certainly lend themselves to proposals informed by the history of knowledge.

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Knowledge Notes: Upcoming Deadlines

The following call, in German, is about memory and narrative, which means it’s also about public history and, implicitly, public knowledge of Germany’s Nazi past: Conference: Gedenkstättengeschichte(n). KZ-Gedenkstätten in postnationalsozialistischen Gesellschaften von 1945 bis heute – Bestandsaufnahme und Perspektiven, February 16–18, 2022, Hamburg. Deadline: September 30, 2021.

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‘Emotion Knowledge’ and Life Writing in English Military Memoirs, 1820s to 1840s

“It would be difficult,” the former officer George Gleig wrote in 1825, “to convey to the mind of an ordinary reader anything like a correct notion of the state of feeling which takes possession of a man waiting for the commencement of a battle.” Nonetheless, he tried to do just that. Time, Gleig asserted, “appears to move upon leaden wings”; one experienced a “strange commingling of levity and seriousness within him—a levity which prompts him to laugh, he scarce knows why . . .”1 Departing for service was both “striking” and “harrowing”; peace was “dull” and resulted in “jealousy”; a siege was “galling” and “disagreeable,” producing “absolute hatred” between the besieging and the besieged.2

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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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