History of Knowledge

Seminar Series @ Utrecht University : :











  


 Medieval pattern poems from Rabanus Maurus’s De laudibus sanctae   crusis (9th century)  















26 November 2020: Jim Secord 
’Against Revolutions’

‘Despite cogent critiques, the long-durée history of science continues to be understood in public discussion largely as a sequence of conceptual revolutions. The Scientific Revolution, which has had something of a revival during the past decade, is seen to have been followed by Chemical, Darwinian, Einsteinian and Plate Tectonics and other dramatic upheavals. The durability of revolutionary assumptions is not surprising, for the ‘Scientific Revolution’ originated not in the Cold War era as is usually assumed, but in American school and university textbooks in the wake of the First World War. The ambiguous attitude of historians towards this legacy is summed up by Steve Shaping’s famous opening to his 1994 survey, ‘There was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it’.

This compromise, which advertises science as ‘revolutionary’ while simultaneously disavowing the implications of such a view, is no longer sustainable. A focus on revolutionary changes within science involves a displacement, in which epistemic violence occurs within scientific communities rather than through the colonial and imperial encounters in which knowledge was forged. This is damaging both to the reputation of contemporary science (which is currently under attack anyway) and to understandings of the place of science in history. It has only gradually become possible, for example, to see the conquest of the Americas in the 1500s and the emergence of colonial empires in the 1800s as key episodes in the simultaneous emergence of Western power and scientific forms of enquiry. The narratives of resistance, exchange and subjugation involved in these new stories are rapidly providing an alternative - important for engaging audiences and suggesting new research questions - but they cannot be maintained simply by adapting the old historiography. 


︎ This talk will take place online (via Microsoft Teams)














12 March 2020: Lorraine Daston
’Knowledge Has Its Own Rules - And They Have a History’

‘The promising new field of the history of knowledge has been mostly defined by what it is not, namely the modern natural sciences. As a result, the history of knowledge threatens to become a miscellany, embracing practical know-how, the academic humanities disciplines, various ethno-studies (ethnobotany, ethnomusicology, etc.), and much, much else. The challenge is to give the history of knowledge its own shape and coherence, without losing the scope and openness to new topics that are its main attractions. One possibility might be to look at a form of rationality that is both ubiquitous but multifarious: attempts to order and codify ways of doing and knowing by rules, whether the subject matter is the weather, carpentry, or grammar. Because the modern natural sciences also formulate rules (e.g. natural laws), this approach might serve as a model for investigating knowledge and science together, rather than in opposition to one another.’


︎ This talk is co-sponsored
by the Descartes Centre and
the Evert Willem Beth Stichting



























24 September 2020: Peter Burke 
’Local Knowledge(s)’ 

‘Taking an overview of Europe over the last 500 years, and focusing on encounters between cultures, I should like to distinguish two recurrent attitudes on the part of scholars and scientists to local knowledges, the knowledges current in other cultures or among artisans or peasants in their own culture. The negative attitude, which has been the dominant one for a long time, has been to dismiss these claims to knowledge as false. The positive attitude has been a minority one, but it is already visible in the Renaissance, became more important in the Enlightenment, declined in importance in the 19th century but revived in the 20th, when it even became institutionalized in the discipline of anthropology.


︎ This talk will take place online (via Microsoft Teams)






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