History of Knowledge at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Philadelphia #AHA23

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.

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Bounded Rationality and the History of Knowledge

A Frontier in the History of Knowledge

In September 2021, Peter Burke gave a talk at Lund University in which he spoke about the challenges that historians of knowledge face as we attempt to understand not only what was known in the past, but what people did with their knowledge. One approach to this puzzle, he suggested, lies in studying decision-making. If we assume that people have at least some control over their actions, then decisions are among the most significant, and common, situations in which what we know interacts with what we do. Decision-making is, thus, not only a proper subject for political or economic historians but also for historians of knowledge. If we are to pursue this insight, we must either develop tools of our own for studying decision-making, or borrow existing tools from adjacent disciplines. Considering the tools available for investigating these subjects, Burke said, he was most attracted to bounded rationality. But what is bounded rationality, and how can we apply it to our research?

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‘Will They Become Human?’ Romanies and Re-education Knowledge in Postwar Czechoslovakia

Romani children in a classroom with Czech children.

“We are building a socialist order for the happy present and future of today's and future generations.” This is what Václav Nosek, the Minister of the Interior, told his fellow party members at the beginning of the Ninth Congress of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in May 1949.1 His words exemplify how the formation of communist rule in Czechoslovakia (and elsewhere) was accompanied by the promise of a just order for all. And since, as it was said, “all people are equal in socialist society, whatever the color of their skin,”2 the situation of local Romanies was supposed to improve as well.

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Upcoming Events

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

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‘The Political and the Epistemic’ in ‘KNOW’

The Fall 2020 issue of KNOW focuses on a specific theme: "The Political and the Epistemic in the Twentieth Century: Historical Perspectives." Emphasizing the first half of the twentieth century, in particular, guest editors Kijan Espahangizi and Monika Wulz point to an emerging "politicized understanding of scientific inquiry" in the interwar period, which "shaped a new social epistemology." (163) The starting point for the contributors to this issue is the interrelation between "heated disputes over the political and economic foundations of society" and the equally contested and pressing debates about "the role of knowledge in society and the economy." (163) The payoff:

By analyzing histories of antagonistic and competitive forms of knowledge, it becomes possible to paint a more detailed picture of not only the relations between the epistemic and the political but also of the inherently political strategies involved in the boundary work of knowledge regimes. (166)

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Public and Scientific Uncertainty in the Time of COVID-19

As historian of science Lorraine Daston recently remarked, COVID-19 has thrown us back into a state of “ground-zero empiricism.” The manifold manifestations of COVID-19 and the many unknowns involved are provoking scientific speculation that is often based on nothing more than chance observations and personal anecdotes. The radical uncertainty of the current situation, writes Daston, has catapulted us back to the seventeenth century, with almost everything up for grabs, “just as it was for the members of the earliest scientific societies—and everyone else—circa 1660.”1

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Women’s Citizenship Education and Voting as Knowledge Practices

What does citizenship entail? For many it is not just a passive right but rather comprises a more fragile set of practices, duties, and beliefs that need to be reworked and reaffirmed along the way. It might be useful to think of “citizenship” as a container for a wide variety of ascribed meanings in time. A century ago, when World War I came to an end, many Western nations re-evaluated what it meant to be a citizen, who was entitled to become one, which rights it entailed, and what one needed to know in order to act properly. For the protagonists of suffrage movements, full citizenship could only be realized through the attainment of civil rights and participation in the formal political process, most notably voting. The ability and desire to do that required knowledge.

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The Politics of Measurement: Knowledge about Economic Inequality in the United Kingdom and Beyond since 1945

If you had a conversation about the growing gap between rich and poor almost anywhere in today’s world, you would very likely refer to “the top one percent,” a phrase that evokes the skyrocketing wealth of the superrich. A similar conversation in West Germany in the 1970s or 1980s would have revolved around the latest movements in wage earners’ aggregate share of the national income, evoking images of a society divided into employers and employees. In 1980s Britain, you might have talked about income growth among the bottom tenth of the population, as the government tried to steer the discussion away from income relativities and overall inequality.

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