The History of Knowledge: An Indispensable Perspective for Contemporary History

Even if scholars are no strangers to the history of knowledge, it sometimes feels as though some cultural and social historians are not very open to the subject, at least not in the case of contemporary history. Questions put forward by the history of knowledge are seen as sidetracking research from “real” work or “important” questions. Although I sympathize with this reaction, I cannot see any way around the history of knowledge. Without renewing the discussion on replacing the “society” in Gesellschafts­geschichte with “knowledge,”[1] I agree with Simone Lässig’s inclusive position that the history of knowledge is “a form of social and cultural history that takes ‘knowledge’ as a phenomenon that touches on almost every sphere of human life, and … uses knowledge as a lens to take a new look at familiar historical developments and sources.”[2] In some cases, such as when examining the history of the revolutions of 1989–91 from a longer-term perspective, studying knowledge can also offer historians the opportunity to analyze material never before subjected to historical analysis. Continue reading “The History of Knowledge: An Indispensable Perspective for Contemporary History”

Some Links related to the Historian’s Profession

“History, Historians, and ‘the Current Moment,'” Perspectives, November 2017

Jim Grossman, executive directer of the American Historical Association, reflects on what historians can do in these challenging times. Not surprisingly, communication is front and center, but his suggestion is more nuanced and very in tune with this period of myriad small publics: “Historians know lots of things that matter in the current moment. Find your niche. Identify an audience.” Continue reading “Some Links related to the Historian’s Profession”

Insights into Loss from the History of Knowledge

This post is part confession and part revelation.

When Simone Lässig approached me about collaborating on migration and the history of knowledge, I immediately agreed.[1] I began writing about German scientists and the production of knowledge over twenty years ago, and much of my current work involves migrants.[2] Taking part in the GHI effort offered me an opportunity to think more systematically about the production of migrant-oriented knowledge and its implications for my studies of German communities across Latin America. Continue reading “Insights into Loss from the History of Knowledge”

Technologies of Trust: Marc Flandreau’s Examination of Financial and Anthropological Knowledge in Victorian Britain

Marc Flandreau. Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange: A Financial History of Victorian Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Victorian London can be seen as multiple cities at once: the imperial metropole par excellence, where different political visions clashed in the course of establishing and governing the British Empire; the thumping heart of global capitalism, busily circulating capital from one corner of the world to another through its formal securities markets and in private deal-making; and the origin point of the modern network of interconnected “learned societies.”[1] Flandreau, formerly of the University of Geneva and now the Howard Marks Chair of Economic History at the University of Pennsylvania, nimbly navigates the history of these three different Londons in Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange: A Financial History of Victorian Science. Continue reading “Technologies of Trust: Marc Flandreau’s Examination of Financial and Anthropological Knowledge in Victorian Britain”

The Granddaughter’s Dissertation: Some Thoughts on Knowledge about Migration in 1960s Switzerland

While studying the scholarly literature on immigration in post–World War II Switzerland, the personal dedication in a 1964 dissertation about the “assimilation of foreign workers” caught my attention: “In memory of my paternal grandmother Antonietta Zanolli-Recati, who in 1905 moved with her family from Belluno to Zurich, the land of Pestalozzi.”[1] This dedication interests me because it points to the ambiguity of “migrant knowledge,” a concept that has been introduced only recently to academic debates at the intersection of the histories of migration and knowledge.[2] The case of Satuila Zanolli, the author of this dedication and the study it accompanied, invites a closer look at the interrelation of two different aspects of the broader problem of migration and knowledge formation: (1) knowledge possessed by the migrants themselves, that is, migrant knowledge in the truest sense of the term, and (2) knowledge about the phenomenon of migration, that is, migration knowledge.[3] Continue reading “The Granddaughter’s Dissertation: Some Thoughts on Knowledge about Migration in 1960s Switzerland”

The ‘Academic Nachwuchs’ Label in Germany

Ein Forscher, eine Forscherin ist meines Erachtens mit Abschluss der Promotion wissenschaftlich mündig.

After earning a PhD, a scholar has, in my opinion, reached academic adulthood.

I have only ever heard the German term Nachwuchs in an academic context, which I understood to be a label for people rather junior in the profession, “trainees” or “young ones,” if you will. The word sounds strange enough when talking about people with one or more books behind them, families, substantial teaching experience, and so on. Nachwuchs can even mean “offspring,” however, which fits perfectly with the parental term one uses in German for a dissertation advisor—Doktorvater  or Doktormutter. Continue reading “The ‘Academic Nachwuchs’ Label in Germany”

Knowledge and Interwar German-Japanese Relations

Ricky Law, “Knowledge is Power: The Interwar German and Japanese Mass Media in the Making of the Axis,” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute  54 (Spring 2014): 27–46.

Ricky Law, who won the Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize in 2013, investigates the role of the interwar German and Japanese mass media in preparing the ground for the Axis by studying the portrayal of Japan in German newspapers, motion pictures, and nonfiction as well as the depiction of Germany in Japanese dailies, lectures and pamphlets, nonfiction, and language textbooks. Law goes beyond cultural history, however, to consider how knowledge was acquired, translated, and disseminated, including the roles played by pundits and voluntary associations.