Political Culture and the History of Knowledge: Actors, Institutions, Practices
Knowledge is omnipresent yet its value is increasingly being called into question. Amid the flood of information disseminated by social media, amid talk of "fake news" and "alternative facts," expertise is subject to challenges from many directions. These developments make the history of knowledge especially relevant today. They also make politics and political culture an ideal test case for assessing the potential and limits of the history of knowledge. Knowledge plays an important role in political activities from voter mobilization to governmental decision-making. As recent historical research on the role of expert knowledge has shown, the political realm functions as a knowledge space - a space where knowledge is gathered, produced, disseminated, manipulated, and regulated. By investigating the role of knowledge in politics, the proposed conference will seek to foster a transatlantic debate on the merits of using knowledge as a category of historical analysis; in particular, it aims to initiate a productive conversation between scholars working in the "history of knowledge" paradigm and scholars in other fields - such as political history, cultural history, and intellectual history - who are open to and curious about using knowledge as a category of analysis.
The conference will explore the role of knowledge in different sectors, institutions, and agents of political life, including the state, the economy, the legal system, the public and the media, political parties, social movements, universities and think tanks. Possible subjects to be investigated from a knowledge perspective include classic topics of political history (including ethnonationalism, populism, elections and the electorate); the role of political culture and cultural policy; political symbols and languages; public opinion and the media; biopolitics, medicine, and environmental policy; migration and mobility. However, themes and topics are by no means restricted to these examples.
To foster a broad dialogue on the merits of knowledge as analytical category scholars from political history, intellectual history, cultural history, media studies, anthropology, the history of science and technology, political science, sociology, or related fields are invited to submit proposals. The program aims for an empirically informed dialogue and prefer historical case studies that speak to knowledge as a category of historical analysis. Focused theoretical contributions discussing or comparing the approach, however, are also welcome especially if they are grounded in empirical work. While the conference seeks to bring into conversation the different historiographical approaches prevalent in Europe and North America, the thematic scope of the conference is not limited to these regions and will range from early modern to contemporary history. In order to leave plenty of time for comment and discussion, participants are asked to prepare papers not exceeding twenty minutes.
Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer (Institute of the Formation of Knowledge at the University of Chicago), Kijan Espahangizi (Center "History of Knowledge" at the University Zurich and the ETH Zurich), Nils Güttler (Center "History of Knowledge" at the University Zurich and the ETH Zurich), Kerstin von der Krone (GHI Washington), Simone Lässig (GHI Washington), Monika Wulz (Center "History of Knowledge" at the University Zurich and the ETH Zurich)
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