Negotiating Knowledge in the 13-19th Centuries: From Scholasticism to the Rise of Modern Disciplines

Course Status: 
CEU credits: 
ECTS credits: 
Academic year: 
Start and end dates: 
12 Jan 2015 - 3 Apr 2015
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
Department of History
Marcell Sebők
László Kontler
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
Assessment : 
Each participant will be required to give at least one “position paper” (a c. 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 instructors, by Week 10, and submitted two weeks after the end of the term at the latest. The grade will emerge from the combination of the position paper (10%), class activity (40%) and the seminar paper (50%).

The course is an overview of major themes of six centuries of important transformations in European science. In traditional approaches to the subject, the "rise of modern science" tended to be discussed in terms of the contribution of this process to “modernity” through the incremental but steady growth of the rationalist and empiricist epistemological foundations of scientific thinking, and the professionalism associated with the pursuit of knowledge. Relying on relatively recent developments in the investigation of the field, the course will confront the   paradigm of scholasticism-humanism-empiricism-rationalism. While scientific ideas and the debates on their substance among contemporaries are important, our main focus will be the practices of scientific knowledge production in and across socio-cultural spaces: as the term “negotiating” in the title indicates, scientific knowledge and its status is not to be taken for granted as an entity developing according to its own logic, but is at all times shaped under a great many factors and influences originating from outside its own proper domain. Such factors include the material aspects of knowledge: objects that are being collected and “ordered”, as well as the physical spaces or “sites” where this activity is carried out (cabinets, libraries, museums, universities, academies). Further, they include the changing criteria for validating or authenticating new knowledge, and the associated ideas about the ethos of science. Special attention will be devoted to the networks for the creation and circulation of knowledge and the processes of scientific “brokerage”, in which – again – extra-scientific motives and agendas of emulation, competition and collaboration played an important role. As these latter processes were to a considerable extent defined by aspirations and interest of governance and bureaucracy, business and religious mission, the themes of political contest, geographic discovery and imperial-colonial expansion, together with knowledge as arising in the “hybrid”, “frontier” or “contact” zones where these took place, will be inevitably discussed. Through an exploration of each of these clusters of topics, the course thus offers a new look at questions of power and possession, patronage and promotion by examining institutionalized and individual efforts.