‘I beg you again from my heart to help me find my sister’: RELICO and the Need for Knowledge

Editor’s note: As has previously been mentioned on this blog, our sister blog, Migrant Knowledge, also always bears some relevance to the history of knowledge. This is not surprising since, as that blog’s motto points out, it seeks to “writ[ e] knowledge into the history of migration and migration into the history of knowledge.” In that spirit, we offer this crossposting from Migrant Knowledge as we have occasionally done since that blog’s inception.

On 12 June 1942, Rosel Wolff (1899–1982) handwrote a letter from her new home in the small village of Broughton in Lancashire, England, to RELICO, the Committee for Relief of the War-Stricken Jewish Population. Having fled to Britain in August 1939, she sought to maintain contact with her beloved sister, Paula (1896–1942), after her brother, Theodor (1905–1978), was interned in Australia as an enemy alien in July 1940, traveling there on the infamous SS Dunera. After receiving news via the Red Cross that her sister had been forcibly taken, Rosel wrote in desperation to RELICO in Geneva in an effort to locate her:

Continue reading “‘I beg you again from my heart to help me find my sister’: RELICO and the Need for Knowledge”

African American Lucumí Devotees’ Adoption and Adaptation of African Diasporic Religious Knowledge in the U.S.

This short piece traces how the Black Power era affected the unfolding of the transmission of African diasporic religious knowledge and how it contributed to the evolution of specifically African American variations of Lucumí in the U.S. Most historical studies examining the influence of the Black Power movement on religious expression in the U.S. focus on Christian or Muslim practices, largely overlooking African diasporic religions like Haitian Vodou or Lucumí, the Cuban variant of the Yoruba religion.1 Yet, these religions began to take root in the U.S. around the time the Black Power movement emerged on the national stage. This omission is all the more surprising in that African American Lucumí practices, in particular, illustrate how Black Power-inspired notions of identity and community found expression in a deeply religious form.2 An examination of the emergence of these religions in the U.S. shows how the expectations and experiences of the early African American devotees, who entered these religions in increasing numbers from the late 1960s onward, shaped the development of these religions in the U.S.

Continue reading “African American Lucumí Devotees’ Adoption and Adaptation of African Diasporic Religious Knowledge in the U.S.”

Bounded Rationality and the History of Knowledge

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”

Human Genetics with(out) Eugenic Knowledge? Towards a History of Knowledge about Human Heredity in West Germany

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.1

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.2

Continue reading “Human Genetics with(out) Eugenic Knowledge? Towards a History of Knowledge about Human Heredity in West Germany”

Glimpses into a History of Knowledge on the Antimalarial Lariam® in Zambia

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”

Organizing Impulses: Reframing Adventure as Global Knowledge for Young Readers in Precolonial Germany (1841–1862)

“The role of the educator is to rhythmize the soul to [moral] virtue.”1 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.2 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)”

‘Will They Become Human?’ Romanies and Re-education Knowledge in Postwar Czechoslovakia

Romani children in a classroom with Czech children.

“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 1949.1 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,”2 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”

Blogging Migrant Knowledge – Part II

Migrant knowledge is not so much a concept as it is a research agenda.1 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”

Indigenous Value Systems as Vessels for Knowledge: An Example from the Pacific Northwest

Wood sculpture of a salmon, whereby the lower half is a human child.

“It may safely be said,” wrote naturalist and U.S. Commissioner for Fisheries Spencer Fullerton Baird in 1878, “that wherever the white man plants his foot and the so-called civilization of a country is begun, inhabitants of the air, land, and the water, begin to disappear.” Particularly salmon at the heart of the thriving Pacific Northwest fishing industry were subject to this “fatal influence.” Baird’s warnings regarding overfishing and habitat destruction were among the earliest written accounts to caution against overexploiting the region’s resources. In other parts of the world, like northern Europe and Japan, it had long been “evident to every one how important it is to carry on the fisheries in accordance with certain well-defined rules based on a thorough knowledge of the nature and mode of life of the fish,” as Baird phrased it. He concluded that such knowledge was crucial for Americans, too, “if the future of the fisheries is not to be seriously endangered.”1 Today, salmon are at five percent of the abundance recorded at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest is perhaps irreparably damaged.2

Continue reading “Indigenous Value Systems as Vessels for Knowledge: An Example from the Pacific Northwest”

Blogging Migrant Knowledge – Part I

A lot of interesting material has been published over at Migrant Knowledge since its inception nearly three years ago. If the material could just as easily have found a home here, it was produced for our sister website as part of a specific research program linked to a broad network of scholars, on the one hand, and related research activities coordinated by the GHI’s Pacific Office, on the other. The site’s conceptualization is different from ours, but its contributions deserve to be read by all who are interested in histories of knowledge. Indeed, we have occasionally crossposted on both blogs in order to point out this overlap.

Continue reading “Blogging Migrant Knowledge – Part I”