In a blog post earlier this month, “From Cultural History to the History of Knowledge”, Johan Östling and David Larsson Heidenblad examine the attraction and potential utility of the history of knowledge as an historiographical approach. Particularly helpful is their attempt to tease out its relationship to cultural history.
Global history preferred a scale that reflected its cosmopolitan self-yearnings. It also implicitly created what the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in Strangers in Their Own Land (2016) called ‘empathy walls’ between globe-trotting liberals and locally rooted provincials. Going global often meant losing contact with – to borrow another of her bons mots – ‘deep stories’ of resentment about loss of and threat to local attachments. The older patriotic narratives had tethered people to a sense of bounded unity. The new, cosmopolitan, global narratives crossed those boundaries. But they dissolved the heartlanders’ ties to a sense of place in the world. In a political climate dominated by railing against Leviathan government, big banks, mega-treaties with inscrutable acronyms such as TPP, and distant Eurocrats, the pretentious drive to replace deep stories of near-mourning with global stories of distant connection was bound to face its limits. In the scramble to make Others part of our stories, we inadvertently created a new swath of strangers at home….
I did my own part in the global pivot. For several years, I oversaw Princeton’s internationalisation drive, creating global knowledge supply chains. It never occurred to me, or to others, to ask: what would happen to those less sexy, diminutive, scales of civic engagement? We didn’t worry much. They were the remits of provincialism, quietly escorted from the stage upon which we were supposed to be educating the new homo globus.
This is an older critique, and I agree there has been much improvement. Still, negative examples abound, making this short piece as worthwhile as ever.
One of the new research focuses at the GHI since our director, Simone Lässig, began her tenure last October is the history of knowledge.1 The study of knowledge in its societal context (as opposed to thought experiments about truth in the discipline of philosophy) has some tradition in sociology and anthropology, but it is still a relatively new focus in English-language historiography, at least in my experience here in the U.S.2 Continue reading “A Few Notes on the History of Knowledge”
I have had to withdraw from an interesting handbook project because of excessive overlap with two other chapters. My topic was on the matrix of gender, war, and nation in European wars in the 1850s through the 1870s. Given the limited historiography, I chose a thematic approach, but that produces the undesired overlap. What is needed instead, I’m told, is a gendered history of these specific wars. Leaving aside the insufficient historiography, to say nothing of the challenges inherent in collaborations of this kind, where project requirements and individual research have to somehow come together and adapt to changing parameters, the impasse I’ve reached seems to have deeper epistemological roots. Continue reading “Historiographical Impasse”