Unicorns, although they are non-existent, are ubiquitous today as symbols. For example, they remain the national animal of Scotland, first added to the Scottish coat of arms in the 1500s to represent the untamable, proud nature of Scotland. Unicorns also intrigued ancient, medieval, and early modern authors who wrote about these imaginary animals and how they interacted with their environments. Long before the Scottish adoption of the unicorn, these writers infused the animal with spiritual meanings similar to those that later appealed to the Scots: the unicorn was proud, fierce, and pure. Continue reading “Unicorns: Knowledge of the Environment and the Hispanic Mediterratlantic”
Who do fossils belong to? The question is far from new: in various guises, it has preoccupied paleoscientists, museum curators, and occasionally officials for many years, although ongoing debates about the decolonization of science and natural history collections have renewed its significance. For my childhood self, the answer would have been simple: fossils belong to anyone who cares to be enchanted and educated by them. Adult life is undoubtedly more complicated. Here, I begin to sketch an answer with a reminder of what is at stake. As remnants of past geological ages, plant and animal fossils often belong to a time when the Earth’s physical geography was markedly different from now, to say nothing of its geopolitical organization. That their ownership matters today clearly indicates how science and politics intersect: fossils provide a scientific lens through which to investigate the deep past, but they also help to weave that past into the politics of the present and the making of the future.Continue reading “Owning the (Deep) Past: Paleontological Knowledge and the Political Afterlives of Fossils”
Editor’s note: As has previously been mentioned on this blog, our sister blog, Migrant Knowledge, also always bears some relevance to the history of knowledge. This is not surprising since, as that blog’s motto points out, it seeks to “writ[ e] knowledge into the history of migration and migration into the history of knowledge.” In that spirit, we offer this crossposting from Migrant Knowledge as we have occasionally done since that blog’s inception.
During the nineteenth century, certain tropical islands and continental coasts in the world’s three major oceans witnessed the long-distance migration of millions of bonded laborers, chiefly though not exclusively from Asia. These migrations had lasting social, cultural, and demographic effects on both their places of origin and their destinations. Public memory of this form of migration, remembered as indenture or contract labor, plays a prominent role in local history and identity construction in sites ranging from Suriname and Fiji, South Africa and Trinidad to Mauritius and Hawai’i.Continue reading “Of Dodos, Cane, and Migrants: Networking Migrant Knowledge between Mauritius and Hawai’i in the 1860s”
The History of Knowledge will be featured in several panels at the 136th Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Philadelphia from January 5-8, 2023. If you’ll be attending, please check out some of the sessions below. One of this blog’s editors, Mario Peters, is also presenting, so feel free to find him at his talk Friday afternoon,“The Intercontinental Railway and the Contentious Production of Knowledge,” to talk about submitting a contribution for the blog! (See Session 128 below.) For more information on the specific papers, please follow the link to the AHA Annual Meeting Program.
“The role of the educator is to rhythmize the soul to [moral] virtue.”1 This conclusion to his 1841 faculty address to the Königliche Realschule zu Berlin captures the spirit of Theodor Dielitz’s educational philosophy. As a teacher, Dielitz advocated systematic instruction about the real world to prepare students for a harmonious, moral life within the Prussian state.2 Beyond his classroom activities, he produced both Realschule textbooks and commercial youth-literary publications, works that he saw as complementary parts of his unified pedagogical vision. The connection between these production spheres is easy to overlook when traveling the well-worn paths of his reception as a mass-production author. Dielitz’s history and geography textbooks have long since been forgotten, but his nineteen-volume series of adventure anthologies—Images of Land and Sea (1841–1862)—enjoyed immediate and sustained success throughout the nineteenth century. It was through the Images of Land and Sea that I first encountered Theodor Dielitz.
Elaine Leong is speaking tomorrow on “Vernacular Medicine and ‘Agents of Knowledge’ in Late Seventeenth-Century London” as part of the History of Knowledge Seminar Series @ Utrecht University. The event is online, November 24, 2021, 3:30–5:00 pm CET. 🔗 Details
The Volkskundemuseum Wien is holding a conference to think about its photograph collection. “Reimagining One’s Own: Ethnographic Photography in Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Europe,” December 1-3, 2021. Hybrid format: Volkskundemusem Vienna and on Zoom. 🔗 Details
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?
Canada’s definition and documentation of “Indians” is a project of bureaucratic knowledge production in service of the continued assertion of settler colonial political visions.1 The Indian Act was introduced in 1876 to assert the terms of the political relationship between the Dominion of Canada and certain peoples the Act defines as “Indians.” The Act has been amended many times, but is remains a current piece of legislation in Canada and still defines “Indian” as a political and legal category of person.2 Defining and identifying “Indians” served the broader project of managing Canada’s so-called Indian problem. From the perspective of nineteenth-century legislators, the “problem” was one of Indigenous peoples asserting nationhood and insisting on claims to the lands where they have lived since time immemorial, thus creating obstacles for settler claims to sovereignty. But it is also a problem of knowledge, which Indian Affairs administrators sought to address through a practice of classification. To apply and enforce the provisions of the Act designed to undermine Indigenous sovereignty and compel their assimilation, “Indians” had to be made visible to state legislators, bureaucrats, and other agents. The definitional work of the Indian Act is both a technique of classification and a way of seeing.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 excited curiosity in nineteenth-century contemporaries and continues to garner interest among scholars today. Attracting some six million visitors and comprising over 100,000 exhibits that filled 76,720 square meters of exhibition space, it entered media, memory, and historiography as an emblem of British industrial capabilities, free-trade ideology, and imperial globalization. Yet it is seldom discussed in relation to the consequential contemporaneous transformation of modern sciences into a set of powerful, highly institutionalized social practices.