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?
Continue reading “Bounded Rationality and the History of Knowledge” →
Since 1945, no German book on eugenics has been published. However, during two decades of reconstruction of the science of human genetics, which is fundamental to eugenics, the problems of eugenics repeatedly came to the fore and were discussed lively in wide circles.
In the preface to his monograph Eugenik. Kommende Generationen in der Sicht der Genetik (1966, Eugenics: Coming Generations in the View of Genetics), the West German human geneticist Otmar von Verschuer (1896–1969), presenting himself as an expert in eugenics, emphasized that it was necessary for “this complex of topics” to be presented in a way that was “generally understandable.” His academic accomplishments might have proven his expertise as his career was largely intertwined with the academic boom in eugenics, or “racial hygiene,” as it was called in Germany before 1945. With the help of hereditary knowledge, the eugenics movement aimed to improve the genetic health of human populations. In addition to their intention to solve social problems by biological means, eugenicists also desired to be perceived as a scientific community. In the Weimar Republic, representatives of racial hygiene not only gained access to political decision-makers but also began an intensive process of professionalization.
Continue reading “Human Genetics with(out) Eugenic Knowledge? Towards a History of Knowledge about Human Heredity in West Germany” →
You may have heard of the antimalarial agent mefloquine during the Covid-19 pandemic, as scientists suggested repurposing the drug to combat the novel coronavirus. Most drugs are developed for the body of a 27-year-old male Caucasian, and so was this antimalarial. Mefloquine was discovered in the Antimalaria Drug Discovery Program—the biggest program of its kind—launched by the American Army in 1963. Over a period of fifteen years 250,000 antimalarial agents were tested at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) in Washington DC. In 1969, researchers discovered WR 142,490, which became known as mefloquine in 1975. While the clinical trials were conducted in malaria-endemic areas, the drug was later marketed by the Basel-based Swiss pharmaceutical company F. Hofmann-La Roche (Roche) as Lariam®.
Continue reading “Glimpses into a History of Knowledge on the Antimalarial Lariam® in Zambia” →
“The role of the educator is to rhythmize the soul to [moral] virtue.” 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. 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.
Continue reading “Organizing Impulses: Reframing Adventure as Global Knowledge for Young Readers in Precolonial Germany (1841–1862)” →
“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. 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,” the situation of local Romanies was supposed to improve as well.
Continue reading “‘Will They Become Human?’ Romanies and Re-education Knowledge in Postwar Czechoslovakia” →
Migrant knowledge is not so much a concept as it is a research agenda. It can foster work on what migrants know about their world, and it challenges us to think more about what societies, including states, know about migrants. In Part I of my reflections on our sister blog, Migrant Knowledge, I highlighted posts that focused on the knowledge of and about migrant children and youth. Here I turn to a rich set of posts that treat societal knowledge about migrants from the perspective of two elite groups, so to speak, the state and its agents, on the one hand, and scholars, here primarily historians, on the other hand. Two additional perspectives appear in these accounts: the entanglement of state knowledge about migrants with the knowledge that migrants develop about the state and its expectations, a big theme here, and the influence that scholarship can have on migration policy and outcomes.
Continue reading “Blogging Migrant Knowledge – Part II” →
Occasional notes on calls, events, publications, and more that caught our attention. Please tweet or email us your own items.
Continue reading “Knowledge Notes: Books and Archives” →
The Fifth Annual GHI Conference on Digital Humanities and Digital History, titled “Datafication in the Historical Humanities: Reconsidering Traditional Understandings of Sources and Data,” will take place in an accessible hybrid format next week from June 2 to June 4. You can register to attend two keynotes as well as other sessions on the conference website this week.
Mark Stoneman, one of our cofounders, is leaving the History of Knowledge editorial team. We would like to thank him for his years of engagement, and especially for all his hard work in helping us to conceive and launch the blog. Patricia “Casey” Sutcliffe, a longtime editor at the GHI Washington, will manage the blog going forward.
Learn more about his work on the blog in “Blogging Histories of Knowledge in Washington, D.C.” by Mark Stoneman and Kerstin von der Krone in “Digital History,” ed. Simone Lässig, special issue, Geschichte und Gesellschaft 47, no. 1 (2021): 163–74.
You can read Mark’s many posts on this blog in our archives.
The University of Konstanz has two 50% research assistant positions in the History of Knowledge / History of Alternative Education. Each position within the ERUA Research Group “Reimagining Higher Education and Research” runs until end of 2023 with a possible extension for an additional year, subject to availability of funds. Application deadline: March 31, 2022. 🔗 DETAILS