Classical Knowledge, Power, and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Dutch Rabbinic Education

Tell me, o Muse, of the man . . .
— Homer
 

Francis Bacon’s belief that “knowledge is power” is one of the great epistemic mottos of all time. In early nineteenth-century Jewish Amsterdam, where civic emancipation had overturned the old corporate hierarchies, the rabbinic elite soon came to experience its merciless truth. In the newly established Kingdom of the Netherlands (1814), both their position and their expertise were pushed to the margins. To make things worse, the centralized organization of the newly constituted Israelite Denomination left no room for German-style Reform–Orthodox dualism. As a result, innovation and consolidation all took shape within a single, outwardly stable, yet inwardly polarized community, in which conservative rabbis and progressive lay executives vied for initiative and control. This perpetual state of discord posed high demands on a rabbi’s personal skills. It was no longer enough to be a competent teacher and judge; in order to survive, the rabbi had to become a kind of statesman. But what in his rabbinic experience would provide him with the wherewithal to become a politician? Continue reading “Classical Knowledge, Power, and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Dutch Rabbinic Education”

Hunters, Inquisitors, and Scholars: The Construction and Demarcation of Expertise in the Manuals of Frederick II and Bernard Gui

At first glance, the practical manual by Emperor Frederick II (1194–1250) and the one by the inquisitor Bernard Gui (1261–1331) do not seem to have any specific features in common. Whereas the first treatise, De arte venandi cum avibus (1240s), deals with the art of falconry,[1] the latter work, Practica officii inquisitionis (1323–24), aims to provide useful knowledge for the inquisitor.[2] Each work has been repeatedly acknowledged as an outstanding example in its particular field of knowledge. Little attention, however, has been given to the specific strategies used in the texts to construct and demarcate expertise. Continue reading “Hunters, Inquisitors, and Scholars: The Construction and Demarcation of Expertise in the Manuals of Frederick II and Bernard Gui”

Constructing Authority in Early British Aviation

By definition, experts play a vital role in creating, sustaining, and disseminating any particular body of knowledge. But what constitutes an expert? How is authority obtained? Does this change over time? There are no absolute answers, which is to say that the question of who is considered to be an authority is culturally and socially constructed, and therefore interesting to historians. Here, I will consider the construction of authority in British aviation in the early twentieth century, paying particular attention to its manifestations in the public sphere.[1] Because aeronautics was the subject of intense media scrutiny, but as yet lacked formal criteria for demonstrating expertise, anyone who wanted to claim the mantle of authority at some point had to come to terms with popular expectations. Continue reading “Constructing Authority in Early British Aviation”

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”

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”

Sources: Child Labor in the United States

On this May Day, it is interesting to read a Progressive Era speech by Florence Kelley from December 1905 entitled “The Federal Government and the Working Children.”[1] Kelley was arguing for a federal solution to the dearth of accurate and timely data about child labor in the United States. The industrial and agricultural interests that objected to a federal role, she pointed out, were quick to band together when it came to demanding protection for their own commercial interests.

Never again can it be a matter of merely local concern what hours the children are working. They will be the Republic when we are dead, and we cannot leave it to the local legislators, here and there, to decide unobserved what sort of citizens shall be produced in this or that State, whether they shall be strong in body, mind and character, or whether they shall grow up enfeebled by overwork in early childhood.

Of course, compiling and disseminating the data would have political consequences. Continue reading “Sources: Child Labor in the United States”