class="csc-default"Do definite bodies of knowledge turn out to be temporary?

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 seven professors of the ETH Zurich. At the moment the associated faculty consists of 32 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 SUK-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.


Program Fall 2017

Like in the past academic year, we alternate between two different types of events: an academic colloquium covering topics related to the history of knowledge (ZGW Kolloquium) is followed by an event at the Cabaret Voltaire focused on current public debates.

The following events are scheduled for the upcoming semester:
October, 4: ZGW Kolloquium with Prof. Dr. Ute Tellmann
October, 18: Wissen in Gesellschaft #12: "Recht und Unrecht im Mittelmeer"
November, 1: ZGW Kolloquium with Dr. Alina-Sandra Cucu
November, 15: Wissen in Gesellschaft #13: "Wie geht Demokratie digital?"
November, 29: ZGW Kolloquium with Prof. Dr. Simone Lässig
December, 13: ZGW Kolloquium with Ana Teixeira Pinto and Prof. Dr. Damir Skenderovic

See the complete program here.

no news in this list.



Opfer. Die Wahrnehmung von Krieg und Gewalt in der Moderne

Svenja Goltermann, S. Fischer Verlage: 2017

New Coordinator Doctoral Program

December 2017

We welcome Dr. Monika Wulz as the new coordinator of the Doctoral Program at ZGW from January 1, 2018.
We would also like to thank Saša Vukadinovic for supporting the ZGW during the last two years and wish him all the best!

New associated members at ZGW

December 2017

We warmly welcome our new associated members Dr. Xenia Vytuleva and Dr. Tina Asmussen at the ZGW and are looking forward to stimulating exchange and productive collaborations!

Book release

Strahlenmedizin. Krebstherapie, Forschung und Politik in der Schweiz, 1920–1990

Niklaus Ingold, Sibylle Marti, Dominic
Studer, Chronos Verlag: 2017

Book launch

50th review

October 2017

The team of editors, which is situated at the Center for the History of Knowledge and the HU Berlin and was founded in 2015, published its 50th review last week on H-Soz-Kult. The editors are one of the working groups of ZGW, namely Gleb J. Albert, Ruben Hackler, Torsten Kahlert and Andrea Westermann.Please find more information on the reviews here. The editors are looking forward for recommendations on further reviews.

Job offer

October 2017

The Center »History of Knowledge« invites applications for the position of the Coordinator of the Graduate Center. See the job offer for further information.

The application has to be submitted by November 15, 2017.


Nach Feierabend – Zürcher Jahrbuch für Wissensgeschichte, Vol. 13
October 2017

The Cold War: Degrees of Coldness of a Global Conflict

Edited by Silvia Berger Ziauddin, David Eugster, and Christa Wirth.

With contributions by Silvia Berger Ziauddin, Ekaterina Emeliantseva, David Eugster, Adrian Forty, Helmut Lethen, Jordan Bimm, Manuel Kaiser, Patrick Killian, Sibylle Marti, Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen, Hans Rindisbacher, and Christa Wirth. more