Political Interpretations of Knowledge in Colonial Contexts

Attractive classroom scene

In the 1970s and 1980s, the concept of the “knowledge society” (Wissensgesellschaft ) rapidly gained in popularity among social scientists and politicians in Western countries.[1] The concept referred to a socioeconomic system that was no longer organized around the manufacture of material—especially industrial—goods but instead around the production of knowledge, expertise, and highly specialized skills. The prominence of this perspective was strongly influenced by the experience of de-industrialization in Western Europe and North America in the last third of the twentieth century, with former sites of industrial production being dismantled and the so-called service sector rapidly gaining in importance. Closely linked to emphasis on the relevance of knowledge in the twenty-first century was concern with educational models that seemed to be outdated because they were rooted in the industrial paradigm of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was in this context that school and university curricula were revised and “modernized” so that they would match the technological demands of postindustrial societies. These efforts were driven by the understanding that the international standing of formerly industrial countries and regions depended on their ability to supply and apply the skills and expertise needed to compete in an increasingly global economy. Continue reading “Political Interpretations of Knowledge in Colonial Contexts”

Celebrating Technology at the 1933–34 World’s Fair

Poster urging people to attend the Century of Progress International Exposition in 1933–34. The “bright” metaphor encompassed both the technological “progress” that was the focus of the fair and the diversity of resulting consumer goods presented in a striking array of colors. Source: Library of Congress, PPOC, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2014646779/. On the “bright” metaphor, see Regina Lee Blaszczyk and Uwe Spiekermann, eds., Bright Modernity: Color, Commerce, and Consumer Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

Diffusing Knowledge about Poland in Britain in the First Half of the 19th Century

Europe in the 1830s and 1840s was marked by political ferment, with various kinds of nationalism and political ideology challenging the international system established by the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15. One potential tool at the disposal of revolutionaries was public opinion abroad, insofar as the international order depended on enforcement by the great powers—Prussia, the Habsburg monarchy, Russia, France, and Great Britain. The last of these was particularly interesting for those on the Continent with a national or liberal agenda because it offered a safe haven for political exiles, its press laws were liberal, and it had a sizeable educated and moneyed public that was interested in constitutional and national questions—a public that might sway government policy or offer financial and moral assistance. Lucy Riall has highlighted the role played by the media and public opinion campaigns in Great Britain during Italy’s struggle for national independence.[1] Poles too sought to use such tools. Continue reading “Diffusing Knowledge about Poland in Britain in the First Half of the 19th Century”

Call: Agents of Cultural Change

Agents of Cultural Change: Jewish and other Responses to Modernity, ca. 1750–1900

  • Location: GHI Washington DC
  • Dates: October 8–10, 2018
  • Deadline for proposals: November 15, 2017

According to the call for papers, the conveners “are particularly interested in contributions that discuss the interdependencies of education and religion and their impact on prevalent systems of knowledge and practices of knowledge production.”

Placing Indigenous and European Knowledge on Equal Footing in the Delgamuukw Land Claim

The s that is now often added to turn the history of knowledge into the history of knowledges marks a huge challenge. While scholars working within European academic traditions increasingly recognize in principle that there are many kinds of knowledges and endeavor to respect them, any attempt to bring fundamentally different kinds of knowledge into sustained contact is extremely difficult. Continue reading “Placing Indigenous and European Knowledge on Equal Footing in the Delgamuukw Land Claim”

Histories of Knowledge around the Web

Monk leading stubborn donkey while reading book
“Pursuit of Knowledge under Difficulties” by Wordsworth Thompson (Boston, MA: L. Prang & Co., 1878), Library of Congress, PPOC, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016649779/.

Ten Links

  1. “Teaching Soviet Children the Language of Science and Technology” by Laura Todd at The Language of ‘Authoritarian’ Regimes, June 28, 2017
  2. “What We Can Learn from Fake News” by Paul J. Croce at the History News Network, July 23, 2017
  3. “How African American Activists are Influencing Latinos” by Aaron Fountain at Black Perspectives, July 25, 2017
  4. “An African American Pioneer in Greece: John Wesley Gilbert and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1890–1891” by John W. I. Lee at From the Archivist’s Notebook, August 1, 2017
  5. “The Forgotten World of Communist Bookstores” by Joshua Clarke Davis at Jacobin, August 11, 2017
  6. “The Significance of Scripts” by Elisabeth Chaghafi at Shakespeare’s World, August 24, 2017
  7. “The Racist Roots of Gynecology and What Black Women Birthed” by Sherronda J. Brown at Wear Your Voice, August 29, 2017
  8. “(In)Forming Revolution Series: Information Networks in the Age of Revolutions” at Age of Revolutions, September 4–29, 2017
  9. “How to Become a Doctor (in 1949)” by Allison Piazza at Books, Health, and History (New York Academy of Medicine), September 5, 2017
  10. “Race, Law & Literature—A New Course” by Eddie Bruce-Jones on his eponymously named blog, September 10, 2017

The Writing Lesson

Woman seated at table, looking at book, pencil in hand, about to something
The Writing Lesson  by Morris Schulman, sponsored by the WPA, ca. 1935–43, and digitized by the New York Public Library.

This image of a middled-aged African American woman won’t let go of me. Seated at a table doing her writing lessons, many years of experience clearly visible on her face, she reminds me that much knowledge is not bound up in the written word. At the same time, her patient work suggests the power of the written word. She clearly wants to learn how to write. Why? Perhaps she was part of the Great Migration and her urban life required new skills or offered new opportunities? Perhaps it was a point of pride or so that she could read and respond to texts important to her emotional or spiritual life?

The picture also embodies learning by the artist through the Works Progress Administration. Besides reminding me about the techniques and skills the WPA fostered, it makes me wonder about the personal encounters between different worlds that the production of this piece must have entailed. What did those involved take away from the experience?

Mark Stoneman holds a PhD in history and is an editor at the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC.