Knowing Otherwise: The Transatlantic Travels of Creative Thinking Expertise in the 1950s

Brainstorming as a way to organize ideation was first practiced in the United States in 1938 in the advertising firm Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (BBDO). One partner, Alex Osborn, later described it as “using the brain to storm a problem,” adding that it should be done “in commando fashion.”1 As a method for thinking freely and wildly, so as to generate “new thoughts and ideas that no individual would have thought of on their own,”2 it was remarkable for its initial combination of conscious effort and play, of tenacious exercise and practices of freedom, and of rationality and irrationality. Brainstorming gained traction in American manufacturing, government, and the military in and after World War Two.3 And while brainstorming developed as a knowledge-generating practice squarely at the heart of military-industrial settings, it was pitted against predominant utilitarian rationalities of management, the military, and bureaucracies, for instance. Practiced in settings that explicitly suspended hierarchical orderings, it was geared toward the democratic expertise of no expertise—where anybody can have ideas. I have hypothesized that in order to overcome the boundaries imposed by modern and emergent rationalities in these settings, brainstorming offered a form of counterknowledge: an understanding that came about by not following the usual rules of thought.4 Continue reading “Knowing Otherwise: The Transatlantic Travels of Creative Thinking Expertise in the 1950s”

Join the Army and Learn a Trade

U.S. Army recruitment poster from 1918, just after the Great War. One wonders how much the prospective recruit would have known about the far-flung U.S military activities indicated on the map. Uncle Sam, it seems, was banking on at least some interest in the greater world but even more on the attractiveness of the skills and more practical inducements he could offer. Source: Library of Congress, PPOC, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002719778/.

Celebrating Technology at the 1933–34 World’s Fair

Poster urging people to attend the Century of Progress International Exposition in 1933–34. The “bright” metaphor encompassed both the technological “progress” that was the focus of the fair and the diversity of resulting consumer goods presented in a striking array of colors. Source: Library of Congress, PPOC, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2014646779/. On the “bright” metaphor, see Regina Lee Blaszczyk and Uwe Spiekermann, eds., Bright Modernity: Color, Commerce, and Consumer Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

Rodin’s Thinker, the New Deal, and Libraries as Spaces of Knowledge

Commenting on his famous work Le Penseur, or The Thinker, a century ago, the French sculptor Auguste Rodin described his subject in terms of its utter (masculine) physicality. “What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.”[1] Rodin’s corporeal Thinker embodies the tension between thought and action, spirit and body. It reminds us that thought and knowledge are crafted not only in one’s mind but though ones actions and experiences. Moreover, one’s physical existence impacts how one interacts with the world, how this knowledge is formed, and how it becomes manifest, that is, how one displays and conveys it. Continue reading “Rodin’s Thinker, the New Deal, and Libraries as Spaces of Knowledge”

Journalistic Practices and Knowledge Production

In 1903, the Austrian journalist Emil Löbl observed that “many of today’s readers” see their newspaper as a “universal encyclopedia,” the study of which, they believed, satisfied their duty as “cultivated people” (Kulturmenschen) to stay informed. Whether or not this was a positive development, journalists needed to recognize that “modern readers expected of newspapers the greatest degree of universality, the widest variety, the most complete abundance of content.”[1] Continue reading “Journalistic Practices and Knowledge Production”

Knowledge and Citizenship

Caryn McTighe Musil at the Association of American Colleges and Universities has written a short programatic article on what the humanities can offer in current disputes over immigration in the United States. Her recommendation that curricula “include a focus on citizenship” suggests one way in which education and knowledge can figure into social, cultural, and political developments in societies with significant levels of immigration.[1] Many of us take citizenship for granted, having, for example, the good fortune to know precious little about statelessness.[2] Musil’s present-oriented intervention is interesting for the history of knowledge because her recommendations for curricular and other forms of public engagement with these issues suggest a possible historical research agenda too, one that extends well beyond the United States.[3]

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Poster from 1919 encouraging immigrants to naturalize.
Source: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/95507947/

  1. Caryn McTighe Musil, “Clashes Over Citizenship: Lady Liberty, Under Construction or On the Run?,” Diversity and Democracy 20, no. 1 (Winter 2017),
  2. On statelessness in twentieth century, see Miriam Rürup, “Lives in Limbo: Statelessness after Two World Wars,” Bulletin of the GHI 49 (Fall 2011): 113–34,
  3. An example from Germany: Simone Lässig, “History, Memory, and Symbolic Boundaries in the Federal Republic of Germany: Migrants and Migration in School History Textbooks,” in Migration, Memory, and Diversity: Germany from 1945 to the Present, edited by Cornelia Wilhelm (New York: Berghahn Books, 2016), chap. 5.
Suggested Citation: Mark R. Stoneman, “Knowledge and Citizenship,” History of Knowledge, March 10, 2017, https://historyofknowledge.net/2017/03/10/knowledge-and-citizenship/.