History of Knowledge Blog

GHI's History of Knowledge Blog

Knowledge does not simply exist, awaiting discovery and use. Knowledge is produced, adapted, forgotten, rejected, superseded, expanded, reconfigured, and more—always by human beings (at least in this more-or-less pre-AI age), alone or in communities, always in culturally, socially, economically, and institutionally specific contexts.

Knowledge is central to most purposeful human practices, whether at work, in the family, or for worship, whether implicitly or explicitly, whether passed down by hands-on training or through books and other storage and retrieval systems. Both product and basis of human interactions, knowledge has a history. Indeed, human history cannot be understood apart from the history of knowledge.

This blog aims to serve as a venue for the exchange of ideas and information on the history of knowledge. It is currently managed by a small team at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC, but it desires contributions by and engagement with scholars working elsewhere.

  • Latest Posts
    • Who Has Been to Ames, Iowa? Or: Handbooks as an Unappreciated Dimension of Science

      Friday, 25. May 2018 - When I told my colleagues in Germany and the United States where I was heading for archival research two years ago, people looked at me completely baffled, or even in compassion. Some also laughed. Historians of science, they seemed to imply, travel to Ivy League universities for archival...

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    • How to Sublime Mercury: Reading Like a Philosopher in Medieval Europe

      Thursday, 24. May 2018 - When it comes to “how-to” books, alchemy poses particular problems. Medieval alchemical treatises claimed to offer detailed advice on a host of spectacular products and processes, ranging from the Philosophers’ Stone, a transmuting agent capable of turning base metals into gold and silver...

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    • Timing the Textbook: Capitalism, Development, and Western Knowledge in the Nineteenth-Century

      Wednesday, 23. May 2018 - Circa 1835, following a survey of recent Dutch publications in shogunal collections, the Japanese physician Koseki San’ei (1787–1839) concluded that among the strengths of new European approaches to education, a proactive attitude toward the power of cheap pedagogical print was paramount...

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    • The Text as Fieldwork: The Book of Nature in Early Modern Japan

      Tuesday, 22. May 2018 - In early modern Japan, the study of nature, known at the time as honzōgaku, was primarily a bookish enterprise. The work of scholars who studied rocks and minerals, herbs and plants, flowers and trees, insects and fish, birds and animals—or, as they collectively called them, “myriads of...

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    • ‘A Lady’ in the Museum

      Tuesday, 22. May 2018 - Historical museum guidebooks mediate an associative network of ideas, writings, artefacts, and people. Piecing together these contingent and ephemeral encounters, and parsing original work from posthumous orders and emendation, is a difficult task that poses a number of questions. What...

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