Blogging before Conferencing

We tried something new in connection with a conference called Learning by the Book. The conveners asked participants to submit a blog post to History of Knowledge in lieu of precirculated papers. One of the conveners, my colleague Kerstin von der Krone, did most of the coordinating work, prescreening posts for length, permissions issues, and content. Then I edited them, trying to ensure they spoke to a multidisciplinary audience, not just specialists in their authors’ respective fields. Continue reading “Blogging before Conferencing”

Tonight’s Lecture

My initial personal takeaway from tonight’s lecture on digital mapping: It looks useful as an analytical tool, and for presentation, but in the end we still have to write narratives. Historians have to make choices, not present facts that merely speak for themselves.

During the question and answer period, the story-telling aspect of such enterprises became clearer. Apparently a kind of directed narrative is the idea. Unfortunately, that got lost in the presentation of tools aimed at the already initiated. An inordinate amount of space was given to talking about digital mapping per se and not enough about the history that he was mapping.

I would have liked to hear more about the insights that a given mapping project offers. If digital mapping were a product for sale, I would be the consumer who needs to be convinced why that category of product is desirable in the first place. The issues involved in getting value out of a specific iteration of that product are secondary.

I think many members of the profession are at this stage, which is one reason why gaining professional recognition (tenure) for output other than the monograph is an ongoing struggle. We need to gain a better understanding of the value of these projects.

But this public event was a keynote lecture for a conference. Part of the audience included people who, like me, are interested in but not initiated in the assumptions and concerns of digital mapping projects. The other part of the audience, however, comprised conference participants deeply immersed in the tools discussed and the reasons behind their creation and use. Trying to bridge that gap is never an easy task for a speaker.

In any case, I look forward to the conference presentations tomorrow, optimistic that they will help me learn more about the historiographical motivations behind this kind of work. I just hope the history, not the tools used to do it, predominates in the discussions.

A Few Notes on the History of Knowledge

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”


Although this blog would seem to indicate otherwise, I am still alive. Here’s what I’ve been up to besides my usual not-blogging:

Archive Seminar

Someone else will be doing the GHI’s archive seminar next year. Part of me wishes I was still doing it, because I enjoy working with the students, and I was looking forward to rethinking part of the program. At the same time, I need all the time I can get at the GHI for editing at the moment.


I’m finishing up the editing for a translated monograph by Annelie Ramsbrock called The Science of Beauty: Culture and Cosmetics in Modern Germany, 1750-1930. It has been a challenge in terms of making the translation more accurate and readable, while at the same time working to keep my inner control freak in check.


I have been revisiting my Groener project, but most of my reading is on gender and war in the middle decades of the nineteenth century in Europe as part of a handbook project. I’m enjoying this work, and I’m managing to do it because I’m not teaching this semester—probably not next semester either.