2 comments 29 May 2008

As you can see, I took the liberty to degrade our former title "History of the Sciences and Humanities" to the blog's subtitle. The new title is "In Retrospect" to indicate two things: we not only look back on past events and situations, we especially review our own branch of knowledge and other academic disciplines in connection with past events. Thoughts?

0 comments 27 May 2008

Yesterday, Ed Jonker accepted his promotion to professor in the Foundations and History of Historical Enquiry (Grondslagen en Geschiedenis van de Geschiedbeoefening). Although one may infer history to be literature, based on an individual's personal interpretation of sources, its 'foundations' would be non-existent. Nevertheless, Ed Jonker showed in his oration that the discipline of history has had multiple foundations to base its principles on. Too many foundations, in fact; hence the confusion. Leopold von Ranke had attempted to provide history with a scientific methodology and objectivity, while the Whig interpretation of history was aimed at the continuation and inevitable victory of progress over reaction. Perhaps history will always remain the contemporary interpretation of the past, we surely can find comfort in the fact that the discussion on its foundations can only lead to a more appropriate and more honest historical enquiry.

The HCSSH students congratulate their teacher with his promotion.

0 comments 25 May 2008

Last Friday was one of our last meetings in class. We presented our paper proposals to the class and discussed them with Daan and Bert Theunissen. For relaxation and inspiration we made a very enjoyable stroll through the Botanical Garden at the Uithof.

Dirk will be writing about Austrian philosopher and social theorist Otto Neurath, his position in the Vienna circle, and his role as both a scholar and a socialist.
Koen's essay will discuss the 20th-century avant-garde movement of Surrealism, its opposition to rationality and its search for the creative potential of the unconscious mind.
Klaas-Pieter will perform the daring comparison between Sigmund Freud and the 'pre-scientific' priest. While looking at psychoanalysis as a ritual, an argument will be made to show how science, positivism, and Enlightenment were used as a substitute for religion.
Ruben will write his essay on the perception of late 19th-century decadence, and how it differed from artists, like Wilde, Beardsley, Wagner, and social critics, such as Max Nordau.

0 comments 22 May 2008

Case Histories in Medicine, Anthropology, and Science.

[Tutorial Proposal under construction]

This is a proposal for a joint research project into the comparative history of the trade of knowledge. By cultures of knowledge we mean to indicate those symbolic systems which make a claim to knowledge, whether universally applicable or only in some particular realm; hence the broad range of interest in philosophy, science, anthropology, medicine etc. The case histories presented by each researcher will address the appropriation, dissemination and evaluation of a particular set of knowledge.

The aims and results of this paper will be introduced and summarized jointly, while each sub-topic is expected to elucidate complementary aspects of the history of knowledge in a cross-cultural, geographically diffuse context.

This approach is expected to address questions about the history and nature of knowledge exchange as it pertains to cultural, practical, philosophical, individual, and institutional realms. ‘Western science,’ a loose term which is used in a general sense, will be considered as the primary agent engaged in knowledge exchange; its links to other systems of knowledge will be exposed to clarify the mutual insights and commensurabilities of global knowledge.

A number of questions will be addressed. For example, was the exchange of knowledge mainly harmonious or conflicted? How accurate was its translation? And what forms of authority were exercised at different points of contact? We will of course look at the Who, What, and Where, and the more interesting questions of How and Why to bind the cases together. The intellectual, economic, cultural, and spiritual aspects of the individual case studies will be used to elucidate historical pathways of knowledge transferral.

In the first case study, the historical interaction between Daoism, an ancient Chinese philosophy, and Quantum Mechanics, a twentieth century science, will be investigated. Commensurabilities between these cultures of knowledge were sought and found by modern scientists, leading to popular literature and individual convictions about the practical significance of modern science from a philosophical (if not spiritual) point of view.

The second case study will discuss the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Dutch VOC traders in East Asia as far as their exchange of medical knowledge was concerned. Rich traditions of ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ medicine came into contact and eventually led to mutual enrichment in cultures of knowledge. How exactly did this occur? As we shall see, a unique combination of practical investments and theoretical research would lead to new insights into the science of human medicine.

Finally, the third case study is concerned with the science of anthropology in the mid twentieth century. Margaret Mead’s field work in Samoa is the point of departure, where we have a western scientist doing field work in a non-Western culture. What did she learn, and how did she transfer and translate her knowledge to American anthropology and culture? What was her role as an authority on Samoan culture? A historical and comparative study will be able to elucidate the intricate web of knowledge production and development.

As it stands, we want to provide a decentralized notion of knowledge production in the history of western science; not one time, one place, or one method defines science, rather a flowing together of multiple streams of ideas and practices in various places and times. The dynamic processes which connect cultures of knowledge need to be recognized as such. As a comparative study we have several limiting factors to consider, in our choice of what is to be compared, but also from what perspective the comparison is to be undertaken. We therefore expect the different case studies together will provide a more objective and nuanced perception than if they had been presented separately.

2 comments 07 May 2008

The first to guess whom a quote is from gets to pick a new one.

"I have done that," says my memory. "I cannot have done that" -- says my pride, and remains adamant. At last -- memory yields.