Space and Science II: Power, Networks and the Circulation of Knowledge the 16th-19th Centuries (European and Global Perspectives)

CEU credits: 
Academic year: 
Start and end dates: 
10 Jan 2011 - 1 Apr 2011
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
Department of History
Stream/Track/Specialization/Core Area: 
Culture, Religion and Intellectual History in a Comparative Perspective
László Kontler
Additional information: 
Europeans have conceived of their civilization as a system which is coherent, but at the same time, emulative, and formed in a dialogue with and dialectical contestation of perceived core zones in Europe. That would certainly include the sense that scientific achievement is a prerequisite and a token of excellence at local, national, continental and global levels. In attempts to map the geography of modern knowledge, its production has been often conceived in terms of the processing of locally collected pieces of information as systems of knowledge in “centers of calculation”, to be then disseminated for universal consumption. Not necessarily contradicting this overall framework of interpretation, the past three decades or so have nevertheless witnessed a gradual undermining of the claims about the “emergence”, the “universality” and the “diffusion” of “Western science” (and the putative “stages” of its global spread: exploration, dependence, and emancipation:), by scholars working on the processes of negotiation and accommodation in the American and Asian “contact zones” between European and other “knowledges”. The intra-European peripheries are also receiving increasing attention, and here as well the mutual (though asymmetric) participation of agents recruited from both sides of the divide is acknowledged – a diversity which results in recognizing the negotiated, contingent and situated nature of “scientific” propositions. Thus, a paradigm of “deficit” is being replaced by one of “difference”. The recent revisionism has also raised to a level with academies, universities and laboratories other “places”, such as religious missions, trading companies, civil and military bureaucracies, as vitally important for the kind of knowledge production just described, and posited the intertwining of “big science” with “big business” and “big government”. Finally, science is understood as a communications network in which skills, ideas and practices circulate in regional, transcontinental and global spaces; in which, however, transnationality does not overwrite belongings, agendas, loyalties, dependences and patronage systems that are local and/or national – resulting in research programs that can be plausibly described as “patriotic”, and the emergence of “peripheral centers” and “central peripheries”. The course will study the spatiality of the production of knowledge in both intra-European and European/non-European communications, also with a view to the possibility of a mutually fertilizing dialogue between these contexts. The chronological focus is on the early modern period, engaging the categories of (post-)Renaissance, “scientific revolution”, Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment: the 17-18th centuries are distinguished by an early, acute and critical understanding, and sophisticated articulation of the quest for the foundations of Europe in a “knowledge-based society”. In terms of methodology, we combine, on the one hand, different scales of analysis, from the micro to the macro, from individuals to collectives, from cities and states to global space. On the other hand, it aims at analyzing the diversities of spaces and locations of knowledge defined by different types of knowledge communities, so that one can stress the high degree of heterogeneity of Europe, and the high degree of mutability of its borders. Knowledge production is understood as a set of socio-cultural practices embedded in material, institutional and political contexts that produced the features of European “centrality”, which, in turn, addresses the normative (self-)image and also the actual strife for hegemony. It has the added advantage of requiring an examination of the interactions between perceptions of Europe’s external borders and perceptions of its internal divisions. Finally, the trans-disciplinary aspects need to be stressed: the field is equally relevant to intellectual, literary and cultural historians, historians of science, as well as social scientists, anthropologists, and philosophers, whose expertise focuses on different dimensions of context and geographical areas.
Learning Outcomes: 
The course develops a comprehensive and critical understanding of the differentials of knowledge production in regional and global contexts over a long period crucial to the establishment of the importance of such differentials. It provides familiarity with current research in the field, elaborating a range of historical and interdisciplinary approaches with a view also to developing a new research agenda.
Assessment : 
Each participant will be required to give at least one “position paper” (a 10-15 minute statement proposing issues to be discussed in the particular class meeting as gleaned from the weekly readings), to contribute actively to class discussion, and to write a 3,000-4,000 word seminar paper. The topic for the seminar paper must be developed, in consultation with the instructor, by Week 6, a draft version presented in the final course workshop, and submitted two weeks after the end of the term. The grade will emerge from the combination of the position paper (10%), class activity (40%) and the seminar paper (50%).


1. Introduction: from a paradigm of deficit to a paradigm of difference in the study of knowledge production

George Basalla, “The Spread of Western Science” Science, May 5, 1967, 156, 611-622. [pdf]

David Wade Chambers and Richard Gillespie, “Locality in the History of Science: Colonial Science, Technoscience, and Indigeneous Knowledge”, in Roy MacLeod (ed.), Nature and Empire: Science and the Colonial Enterprise = Osiris, vol. 15 (2000), 221-240. [pdf]

Kapil Raj, Relocating Modern Science. Circulation and the Construction of Scientific Knowledge in South Asia and Europe (Oxford: Permanent Black, 2006), 2-26. [pdf]


Joseph Needham, “Science and China’s influence on the world”, in The Grand Titration: science and society in China and the West (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969), 55-85 & 108-122. [pdf]

Robert K. Merton, Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1970), 112-136, 208-238. [pdf]

Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 1996), 1-14, 119-165. [pdf]

2. Institutions: material aspects of knowledge (collections, libraries, laboratories, museums)

Paula Findlen, Possessing Nature. Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1994), 96-150. [pdf]

Bruce T. Moran, Distilling Knowledge. Alchemy, Chemistry and the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 2005), 99-131. [pdf]


M. Frasca-Spada and N. Jardine eds, Books and the Sciences in History, Cambridge, CUP, 2000, p. 1-12, 190-226, 225-238. [pdf] [pdf] [pdf]

Laurence Brockliss, “Science, the Universities, and other Public Spaces. Teaching Science in Europe and the Americas,” in Roy Porter, ed. Eighteenth-Century Science, vol. 4 of The Cambridge History of Science (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003), 44-86. [pdf]

3. Data and knowledge: collecting, arranging, system and synthesis

Martin Gierl, “Compilation and the Production of Knowledge in the Early German Enlightenment”, in Hans Erich Bödeker, Peter Hanns Reill and Jürgen Schlumbohm (eds.), Wissenschaft als kulturelle Praxis 1750-1900 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999), 69-103. [ pdf ]

Richard Yeo, Encyclopaedic Visions: Scientific Dictionaries and Enlightenment Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 1-32.[ pdf ]


Jeff Loveland, “Unifying Knowledge and Dividing Disciplines: The Development of Treatises in the Encyclopedia Britannica”, Book History, vol. 9 (2006), 58-87. [pdf]

4. Locality, knowledge and circulation: cities, regions and the global space

Peter Burke, A Social History of Knowledge. From Gutenberg to Diderot (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000), 53-83. [ pdf ]

Sven Dierig, Jens Lachmund, and Andrew Mendelsohn (eds.), Science and the City = Osiris, vol. 18, 2003. [pdf]

Silvia de Renzi, ‘Medical competence, anatomy and the polity in seventeenth-century Rome’, Renaissance Studies, 21, 4, 551–567. [pdf]


Jan Golinski, Making Natural Knowledge. Constructivism and the History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 79-102.  [pdf]

5. Mapping: geographic knowledge and scientific travel

Michael T. Bravo, “Precision and Curiosity in Scientific Travel: James Rennell and the Orientalist Geography of the New Imperial Sage (1760-1830)”, in Jas Elsner and Joao-Paul Rubiés (eds.), Voyages and Visions. Towards a Cultural History of Travel (London: Reaktion Books, 1999), 162-183, 310-313 (notes). [pdf]

Justin Stagl, A history of curiosity: the theory of travel, 1550-1800 (Chur, Switzerland: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995), 155-170, 209-231. [pdf]

Harry Liebersohn, The Traveler’s World. Europe to the Pacific (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006), 1-20. [pdf]


Johann Reinhold Forster, Observations Made during a Voyage round the World, 128-144; 172-201. [pdf]

6. Natures and cultures

Alan Bewell, ““On the Banks of the South Sea”: Botany and Sexual Controversy in the Late Eighteenth Century”, in David Philip Miller and Peter Hanns Reill (eds.), Visions of Empire. Voyages, Botany, and Representations of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 173-193. [pdf]

E. C. Spary, “The ‘Nature’ of the Enlightenment”, in William Clark, Jan Golinski and Simon Schaffer (eds.), The Sciences in Enlightened Europe (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1999), 272-304. [pdf]

Timothy Lenoir and Cheryl Lynn Ross, “The Naturalized History Museum”, in Peter Galison and David J. Stump (eds.), The Disunity of Science. Boundaries, Contexts, and Power (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 370-397. [pdf]

7. Networks and carriers: missionaries, merchants and bureaucrats

Paula Findlen, “A Jesuit’s books in the New World: Athanasius Kircher and his American Readers”, in Paula Finden (ed.), Athanasius Kircher. The Last Man Who Knew Everything (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), 329-364. [pdf ]

Harold Cook, Matters of Exchange.Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age (Yale University Press, 2007), 339-377 and 458-471. [pdf]

Steven J. Harris, “Confession-Building, Long-Distance Networks, and the organization of Jesuit Science,” Early Science and Medicine. A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-Modern Period, vol. 1, nr. 3 (1996), 287-318. [pdf ]

8. The politics of knowledge I: colonization (exploration, appropriation, domination, exploitation)

Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 100-148; [pdf ]

Raj, Relocating Modern Science, 27-59. [pdf]


John Gascoigne, Science in the Service of Empire. Joseph Banks, the British State and the Uses of Science in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 111-146. [pdf]

9. The politics of knowledge II: patriotic research (emulation, emancipation, elevation)

Lisbet Koerner, “Daedalus Hyperboreus: Baltic Natural History and Mineralogy in the Enlightenment”, in Clark, Golinski and Schaffer (eds.), The Sciences, 389-422. [pdf]

Sverker Sörlin, “Ordering the World for Europe: Science As Intelligence and Information As Seen from the Northern Periphery”, in MacLeod (ed.), Nature and Empire, 51-69. [pdf]

Henry E. Lowood, Patriotism, Profit, and the Promotion of Science in the German Enlightenment (New York: Garland Publishing, 1991), 205-261, 408-426 (notes). [pdf]

10. The politics of knowledge III: othering and orientalization

Anthony Pagden, The fall of natural man: the American Indian and the origins of comparative ethnology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 1-9 (Introduction), 27-56 (Chapter 3: The Theory of Natural Slavery), 210, 213-220 (notes). [pdf]

Jorge Cañizares-Esquerra, How to Write the History of the new World. Histories, Epistemologies, and Identities in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001), 1-10, 60-129 (Introduction, Chapter 2: Changing European Interpretations of the reliability of Indigenous Sources), 349-350. [pdf]

11. Workshop of seminar papers

Note: no class meeting in weeks 3 (26 January) and 7 (23 February)!!!