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. Yet it is seldom discussed in relation to the consequential contemporaneous transformation of modern sciences into a set of powerful, highly institutionalized social practices.
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”
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. 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”
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”
“We are living in a new age,” President Sukarno proclaimed at the First National Science Congress in 1958, “the age of atomic revolution, of nuclear revolution, explorers and sputnik, of interplanetary communications with the moon and the stars, and the content of the sea.” And the new age, he reasoned, necessitated new roles. If it was up to him, scientists and other academically trained elites would guide Indonesia’s development into the future. Yet there seem to have been two problems. Although Indonesians had conducted scientific research during the colonial era, their number remained insignificant. As a result, Indonesian culture lacked a sense of scientific authorship and ownership. At the same time, “science” had overtly Western and imperialist connotations, against which the new Indonesian state postulated its postcolonial identity. Here I discuss three discursive strategies that Sukarno employed during the 1950s and early 1960s to resolve these tensions and Indonesianize the production of academic knowledge. Continue reading “Indonesianizing Knowledge, or: The Postcolonial Invention of ‘Colonial Science’?”
The first volume of the massive reference book series Handbuch der Architektur (Handbook of Architecture) was published in 1880. At this time, the population of European cities was growing at a hitherto unprecedented scale, industrialization outside of England was reaching its peak, and traffic infrastructure was taking on global dimensions. The building boom of the newly founded German Reich was in full swing too. Suddenly, workshops, post offices, hospitals, and more had to deal with ever increasing numbers of customers or patients and goods that demanded bigger, spatially and functionally more differentiated facilities. Novel types of buildings, such as railway stations, department stores, and disinfection plants, presented architects with the pressing question of how to design them appropriately to their purposes and so that building and using them would be cost efficient. Continue reading “‘Handbuch der Architektur’ (1880–1943): A German Design Manual for the Building Profession”
In Notre-Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo (1802–1885) wrote, “the book will kill the edifice.” Spoken by Archdeacon Claude Frollo, this phrase signified the view that the Renaissance was “that setting sun we mistake for a dawn.” Understood as a revolution in tectonics away from the organic and toward the classical, the Renaissance had separated sculpture, painting, and architecture—carved and parceled them out from what was formerly a single edifice of Gothic construction. The mechanism? Printing. Whereas Gothic architecture had reflected and affirmed the entire intellectual investment of society, the various arts and sciences were now contained in books. Continue reading “The Book Will Kill the Edifice? Mechanics Manuals and Learning to Draw in the Early and Mid-Nineteenth Century”
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. 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”