The Effects of Nuclear Weapons was by far the most popular handbook of nuclear defense during the Cold War. Adapted from an original publication of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (1950), the handbook was amended and made commercially available for popular use (1957), revised (1962), reprinted (1964), expanded (1977), and even illicitly translated into Russian for use in the Soviet Union (1960). Edited by Samuel Glasstone, a prolific author of science textbooks, The Effects of Nuclear Weapons was described as a “comprehensive summary of current knowledge on the effects of nuclear weapons” and commended by the Federal Civil Defense Administration as “the definitive source of information on the effects of nuclear weapons.”
In the German humanities, the term Wissensgeschichte, or history of knowledge, is enjoying frequent use. Some years ago, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) and the University of Zurich created a Centre for the History of Knowledge or, as it is called in German, the Zentrum für Geschichte des Wissens (ZGW). Philosophers, historians of science and technology, and literary critics have joined forces. The Humboldt University of Berlin devoted a chair in cultural studies to the topic. Medieval scholars like Martin Kintzinger in Münster have made knowledge a core issue in their research and teaching. The University of Constance recently announced a full professorship in history with a special focus on “the history of knowledge in the humanities and social sciences.” German library catalogs render an increasing number of entries under the heading of “Wissensgeschichte.” What are the roots of this trend and where is it headed?