Skepticism and debate are always welcome and are critically important to the advancement of science. . . . Skepticism that fails to account for evidence is no virtue.
The executive director of the American Meteorological Society, Keith Seitter, made this distinction about skepticism in his letter to the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Energy, Rick Perry, on June 21, 2017. In that letter, he bemoaned the secretary’s rejection of empirically based knowledge about climate change. At the same time, he underlined the importance of related research and of taking the resulting evidence seriously.
Continue reading “Negotiating and Communicating Evidence: Lessons from the Anthropocene Debate”
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,” 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.” 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”
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. I began writing about German scientists and the production of knowledge over twenty years ago, and much of my current work involves migrants. 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”
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.” 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”
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.” 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. 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.
Continue reading “The Granddaughter’s Dissertation: Some Thoughts on Knowledge about Migration in 1960s Switzerland”
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. Thus my translation of the above quotation, which comes from a worthwhile read by Karoline Döring on what Americans might call the status of scholars with “nontraditional” academic careers in Germany: “Wollen wir wirklich BeStI(e)n sein? Ein Plädoyer an und gegen ‘den wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs,'” Mittelalter, February 13/14, 2017. (Don’t miss the comments.)
Continue reading “The ‘Academic Nachwuchs’ Label in Germany”
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.
In my initial academic encounters with Germany in the late 1980s and early 1990s, one of the things that impressed me was the availability of handbooks as well as specialized encyclopedias such as Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. The textbook series Oldenbourg Grundriss der Geschichte was a new experience for me. Each volume offered a concise, chronologically organized survey (with key terms in the margins for rapid orientation), followed by a substantial historiographical discussion and bibliography. At the time, I did not appreciate the massive effort behind such compilation and systematization efforts. I just found these tools were quite practical for orienting myself in a given historical subject. Why didn’t we have such useful tools in the United States?
Continue reading “Organizing and Communicating Historical Knowledge: Some Personal Observations”