Structuring Imperial Knowledge about India at the Great Exhibition of 1851

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.[1] Yet it is seldom discussed in relation to the consequential contemporaneous transformation of modern sciences into a set of powerful, highly institutionalized social practices.[2]

To what extent did sciences of the time shape the representation and structuring of the knowledge on offer at the exhibition? An especially interesting site at which to study such effects are the Indian courts at this world fair, embedded as they were, in the spatial, taxonomical, and textual frameworks of contemporary science, while also leading to substantial transformations in British knowledge about India. Continue reading “Structuring Imperial Knowledge about India at the Great Exhibition of 1851”

‘You,’ ‘Us,’ and ‘Them’: Glass and Procedural Knowledge in Cuneiform Cultures

You

When you want to make a kiln for glassmaking, you search continuously for a propitious day during a favorable month. You lay the foundations of a kiln with four chambers. You make constant offerings and set up purifying divinities so that no impurities may enter: you make lapis lazuli.

These instructions summarize the contents of a corpus of Akkadian glassmaking recipes from more than two and half millennia ago.[1] It was then, in the seventh century BCE, that the king himself claimed to have dedicated clay tablets containing instructions “for your making stones” (colored glasses and frits) to the temple of Nabu and Tašmetu, the patron gods of knowledge: Continue reading “‘You,’ ‘Us,’ and ‘Them’: Glass and Procedural Knowledge in Cuneiform Cultures”

Call for Proposals: Journal for the History of Knowledge

The Journal for the History of Knowledge will be launched in 2020 and is now soliciting proposals for its first annual special issue in Fall 2020. The proposal deadline is January 15, 2019.

This official publication of Gewina, the Belgian-Dutch Society for History of Science and Universities, will be “devoted to the history of knowledge in its broadest sense.” That means the history not only of science and scholarship “but also of indigenous, artisanal and other types of knowledge.” In keeping with the journal’s institutional home, it also has a declared interest in “interactions and processes of demarcation between science and other forms of knowledge.” The journal intends to be global and reach from antiquity to the present. Further details →

Knowledge and the Appropriation of Technology

It is striking how profoundly we have come to integrate technological artifacts into our lives and how commonplace these devices appear to us now. There were times when they were entirely new. Just think of indoor water taps replacing public wells, or electric light bulbs supplanting kerosine lamps and gas fixtures. Here I consider how new technologies associated with engineered water supplies became a part of standard household practice in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Specifically, I explore the role that knowledge played in the process in Los Angeles. This city offers a thought-provoking glimpse into the “appropriation of technology” around 1900. Continue reading “Knowledge and the Appropriation of Technology”

CfP: Global Knowledge, Global Legitimacy? Transatlantic Biomedicine since 1970

Washington, DC, Sept. 6-7, 2019
Application deadine: Dec. 15, 2018

When the French pharmaceutical company Roussell Uclaff, a subsidiary of the German chemical giant Hoechst AG, was ready to introduce an abortion pill in 1988, American activists flooded the company’s headquarters near Frankfurt with protest letters. In response, the company’s German CEO mandated to stop the project. But the French state, a Hoechst minority shareholder, took the idea across the border, patented it, and embarked on medical trials for the new product in France. Ten years later, scientists in the United States successfully isolated human embryonic stem cells. The country’s regulatory framework had left them free to let the cells proliferate indefinitely. But researchers adopted concepts implemented in Britain to limit the cells’ growth to 13 days after gestation. Continue reading→

Knowledge Notes

Knowledge and Copyright

The Fall 2018 issue of the GHI Bulletin contains a forum entitled “Knowledge and Copyright in Historical Perspective,” edited by Sarah Beringer and Atiba Pertilla. The forum in this free access publication comprises an introduction and three articles:

  • “Mondrian’s Dress: Copying (and) the Couture Copy” by Nancy J. Troy;
  • “Japanese Industrial Espionage, Foreign Direct Investment, and the Decline of the U.S. Industrial Base in the 1980s,” by Mario Daniels;
  • “Why Are Universities Open-Access Laggards?” by Peter Baldwin.