class="csc-frame csc-frame-default"Does more knowledge make us happier?

Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich



The Center »History of Knowledge« (ZGW) is a scientific center of excellence of the University of Zurich (Center of Competence) and the ETH Zurich (D-GESS) that aims to promote and coordinate cultural, historical and philosophical research and teaching on modern knowledge systems and knowledge societies. The ZGW is a center for scientific research as well as a platform for public reflection on the role of knowledge in modern societies.

As decreed by the Board of Directors of the University of Zurich, the Center »History of Knowledge« was established as a joint center of the ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich effective January 1, 2005 and once again accredited January 1, 2010.

Currently, ZGW faculty comprises twelve professors from the University of Zurich and six professors of the ETH Zurich. At the moment the associated faculty consists of 18 members (Post-Doc`s). In this way, we bring together expertise in theoretical and practical philosophy, literary and cultural as well as historical science (history of science, art, medicine, architecture, technology and global history), creating a strong interdisciplinary, internationally-oriented research group.

The ZGW also has a master program and a doctoral program.

Our Research

To begin with: The ZGW has no unité de doctrine. Our common starting point is rather an assumption: We assume that the historical development of knowledge – with all its epistemic, technological, and cultural premises as well as its consequences – has to be understood as an open-ended process. Therefore, our center sees itself as a place where we reflect on knowledge dynamics from a historical, cultural and philosophical perspective.
In order to avoid premature epistemic demarcations in the analysis of modern knowledge societies, e.g. between scientific and popular knowledge, we put our methodical focus on the circulations of different forms of knowledge through society. This means we ask how scientific, technical and medical forms of knowledge, as well as its practices, semantics and materiality, are generated, sustained and how they decline and turn obsolete. Moreover, we cultivate a certain sensibility concerning non-scientific forms of knowledge and their impact on values and practices in the Lebenswelt.

The key category of our center, i.e. »knowledge«, is distinct from the term used traditionally in science and the history of science:

Forms of Knowledge
Knowledge includes academic, but also various forms of non-academic »public« and »popular« knowledge. This dynamic and complex concept of knowledge differs substantially from the old epistemic privilege of scientific knowledge.

Circulation of Knowledge
Knowledge circulates within and between social spheres. In these exchange processes between academic and non-academic forms of knowledge, new knowledge is generated, disseminated and continually changed.

Practices of Knowledge
Knowledge is not free-floating: On the one hand, knowledge is associated with institutions, thus, it is part of power structures; on the other hand, knowledge is always intertwined with and constituted by physical practices, It depends on media, representation and visualization techniques, as well as forms of speech and discourse.

See our projects.

For further reading:
Pidgin-Knowledge. Wissen und Kolonialismus (Harald Fischer-Tiné 2013)
Was ist Wissensgeschichte? (Philipp Sarasin 2011)
Wissensgeschichte - Eine Standortbestimmung (David Gugerli 2012)
All editorials of our Yearbook for the History of Knowledge (since 2005)

Our Teaching

We live in the age of knowledge. Therefore, we need experts for the epistemic, economic, political, social, ethic and aesthetic premises and consequences of the production and circulation of knowledge. The knowledge society needs academically trained strategists who are able to analyze different bodies of knowledge and their entanglements. We need professionals who are able to translate scientific knowledge into a discourse which is intelligible for all.

Since 2007, our competence center houses a graduate center with, at present, 26 PhD students and a master program with, at present, 44 students. In addition, we offer various courses for PhD students and master students of the ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, e.g. an introduction into the history and philosophy of knowledge.


Writing and Publishing Reviews

Academic Writing Course of the doctoral program »History of Knowledge«, fall term 2021
October 22, 1–5 pm; December 10, 1–4 pm.

Writing reviews is part of academic publishing. Crucial ingredient is the evaluation of the book within the relevant research field. The workshop introduces the requirements of reviews in the humanities, especially in the history of knowledge and related fields (history of science, history of medicine, history of knowledge, social history, gender history, legal history etc.). The participants will learn how to publish a review in a scientific journal.

Lecturer: Gleb Albert, Ruben Hackler, review editors at H-Soz-Kult
For registration please write to:

Doctoral seminar »History of Knowledge«

Fall term 2021
Wednesdays 10–12 am, every two weeks (starting September 22)

This doctoral seminar provides a platform for PhD projects in the history of knowledge. We focus on the specific forms, circulations, and practices of knowledge, its discursive, cultural, and social, moreover its scientific, technological, media, and infrastructural, as well as its legal, economic, and political conditions and effects in global and transnational perspectives. Based on the participants' research projects, the seminar introduces the methods, relevant literature and current issues in the history of knowledge
Languages: German and English

Lecturer: Kijan Espahangizi
For registration please write to:

Histories of Knowledge in Society

Summer School of the doctoral program “History of Knowledge”
September, 13–15, 2021, Zurich (program)

Knowledge is not only an element within scientific laboratories, institutes and disciplines. It is also present in social transformation processes: in public and political debates, in medical and technical applications, administrative measures, but also in artistic processes and cultural critique, in which specific forms of knowledge are generated that challenge the boundaries of scientific knowledge and social structures. The Summer School is aimed at PhD students who, in their historical research projects, investigate knowledge as part of social and cultural change. In exchange with professors from the field of the history of knowledge and in relation to the participants’ research projects, methods will be developed in order to analyze the forms, modes of operation and circulation of knowledge as part of social and cultural transformation – its institutional, economic, legal and political contexts as well as its media and forms of articulation.

With Prof. Dr. Caroline Arni (Basel), Prof. Dr. Mischa Suter (IHEID Geneva), Prof. Dr. Cécile Stehrenberger (IZWT Wuppertal) and professors of the doctoral program "History of Knowledge"

Languages: German and English.

Application: Please submit an abstract of your project or presentation (ca. 300 words) until June 10, 2021, and for participation without a presentation until August 25, to: zgw-dp(at)

The Development of 19th Century Geometrical Knowledge: Projective Geometry, Duality, Reflection and Inversion

Hybrid Workshop
June 24 & 25, 2021
(leaflet & program)

The great advancement of geometrical knowledge in the 19th century is often discussed in the framework of non-Euclidean geometries. However, some of the geometrical practices introduced in this century do not receive an adequate treatment in historical and philosophical scholarship. Little has been written on the development of these methods and the investigation of their mutual influences has been mostly neglected. This workshop offers an environment for historians and philosophers of mathematics to discuss the relationship between the new geometrical practices of the 19th century and the common characteristics of the knowledge they produce.

Organized by Idit Cikurel (Tel Aviv University / academic guest at the ZGW) and Juan Luis Gastaldi (Turing Center). Please register here.

The workshop is part of the academic exchange program Knowledge in Society between the ZGW and the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas (Tel Aviv University) funded by the Daniel Gablinger-Stiftung.

The New Book Forum #6: Lara Freidenfelds

The New Book Forum #6
Science, Medicine, Environment
June 9, 2021, 6-7pm
online (poster)

Lara Freidenfelds
The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy: A History of Miscarriage in America

Hosted by Martina Sochin-D’Elia and Lisa Haushofer.
Registration for Zoom link here.

The New Book Forum #5: Amy Cooper

The New Book Forum #5
Science, Medicine, Environment
May 19, 2021, 6-7pm
online (poster)

Prof. Amy Cooper (St. Louis University)
State of Health: Pleasure and Politics in Venezuelan Health Care under Chávez

Hosted by Sebastian Fonseca and Lisa Haushofer.
registration for Zoom link here.

The New Book Forum #4: Anne Harrington

The New Book Forum #4
Science, Medicine, Environment
April 21, 2021, time tbd

Prof. Anne Harrington (Harvard University)
Mind Fixers: Psychiatry's Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness

Hosted by Leander Diener and Lisa Haushofer

Erkenntnis im Modell / Poetik der Modelle

14. & 15 April 2021 (Programm)

mit Prof. Robert Matthias Erdbeer (Universität Münster)
im Rahmen des literaturwissenschaftlichen Kolloquiums ETH / UZH

Anmeldung und Kontakt: sekretariat(at)
Bei Anmeldung wird den Teilnehmenden der Reader und der Zoom-Link des Workshops zugestellt.



Was ist neu an der New Economy? Eine Spurensuche (Aether 04)

Monika Dommann, Anna Baumann & Anne Christine Schindler (eds.)
intercom Verlag: Zürich, 2021

Academic guest

We are happy to welcome  the PhD student Tuvaal Klein and Prof. Dr. Leo Corry as our academic guests at the ZGW in fall semester 2021 (October – November) in our exchange program with the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University, generously funded by the Daniel Gablinger Stiftung. Corry will be teaching a seminar on the history of the scientific revolution (see here) and Tuvaal Klein will present her work on Marie Curie: Biographical Constructions of a Scientific Heroine at the colloquium of the ETH chair for science studies on October 13, 16-18h. 


Wir bedanken uns sehr herzlich bei Monika Wulz, die in den letzten Jahren das Doktoratsprogramm des ZGW geleitet hat, für ihre hervorragende und engagierte Arbeit und wünschen alles Gute auf dem weiteren Weg!

The New Book Forum

The New Book Forum: Science, Medicine, Environment is a new collaborative initiative organized by scholars at the ZGW, the Chair of Science Studies at ETH, and the Chair of History of Medicine at UZH, to showcase and discuss new books in the histories of science, medicine, and environment with their authors. In light of the ongoing pandemic, the New Book Forum seeks to provide authors with a platform to present their books outside of the traditional conference circle, and to connect researchers at our institutions in Zurich with the newest scholarship in these fields. 

See the full program for the spring semester here.

The Political and the Epistemic in the Twentieth Century: Historical Perspectives

Kijan Espahangizi & Monika Wulz (eds.)

KNOW – A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge 4 (2), 2020
Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press


Data Centers. Edges of a Wired Nation

Monika Dommann, Hannes Rickli, Max Stadler (eds.)
Lars Müller Publishing: Zurich, 2020