class="csc-default"Can knowledge be illustrated?

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.

ZGW Kolloquium

November 1, 2017

Lecture: Dr. Alina-Sandra Cucu (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin)

The Knowledge Question in Centrally Planned Economies Beyond the Socialist Calculation Debate (Romania, 1949-1989) (Abstract)

Place & Time: ETH Zürich, RZ building, Clausiusstrasse 59, 8092 Zurich, Room F 21, 6.15-8pm

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Wissen in Gesellschaft #13

November 15, 2017 (Poster/ Flyer)

Wie geht Demokratie digital?

Digitaler Populismus und die Zukunft demokratischer Öffentlichkeiten

Discussion with Adrienne Fichter (political scientist and editor at project R), Dr. Christoph Kucklick (sociologist and editor-in-chief at GEO), Prof. Dr. Philipp Sarasin (ZGW/UZH) and Prof. em. Dr.  Jakob Tanner (ZGW).

Place & Time: Cabaret Voltaire, Spiegelgasse 1, 8001 Zurich, 6.30pm

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Secret Cities

November 23, 2017

Lecture: Dr. Xenia Vytuleva (ZGW Guest/Columbia University, NY)

Introduction: Prof. Philip Ursprung (ZGW/ETHZ)
Respondent: Prof. Kenny Cupers (University of Basel)

Place & Time: ETH Zürich, RZ building, Clausiusstrasse 59, 8092 Zurich, Room F 21, 6.15-8pm

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Migration & History of Knowledge

November 29, 2017

Workshop with Prof. Dr. Simone Lässig (German Historical Institute, Washington D.C.)

More information will follow shortly.

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ZGW Kolloquium

November 29, 2017

Lecture: Prof. Dr. Simone Lässig (German Historical Institute, Washington D.C.)

Die stumme Hälfte der Gesellschaft? Kinder und Jugendliche in der Wissensgeschichte (Abstract)

Place & Time: ETH Zürich, RZ building, Clausiusstrasse 59, 8092 Zurich, Room F 21, 6.15-8pm

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Neues reaktionäres Denken: Wissenshistorische Perspektiven

December 13, 2017

Workshop with Ana Teixeira Pinto (UdK Berlin), Prof. Dr. Damir Skenderovic (Université de Fribourg) and working group of the ZGW "Wissen und neues reaktionäres Denken".

Registration necessary until December 11.

Organized by Fabian Grütter, Dr. Nils Güttler, Dr. Max Stadler and Dr. Monika Wulz (all ETH).

Place & Time: ETH Zürich, RZ building, Clausiusstrasse 59, 8092 Zurich, 3-5pm

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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

Job offer

September 2017

The Departement of Transdisciplinarity at Zurich University of the Arts (Prof. Dr. Florian Dombois) and the Chair for Science Studies at ETH Zurich (Prof. Dr. Michael Hagner) invite applications for 2 PhD positions. See the job offer for further information.

The application has to be submitted by September 17, 2017.

Le foucaldien Launch

September 2017

At September 1, 2017 the peer-reviewed open access journal Le foucaldien, published by the Open Library of Humanities hab been launched. Le foucaldien is a spin-off from the foucaultblog and publishes interdisciplinary research along the lines of the philosopher and historian Michel Foucault (1926–1984) in English, German, and French. The articles are double-blind peer reviewed, published under a cc-by open access license, indexed in all major databases, and archived long-term in HTML, PDF, and XML.

For further information check the website, twitter, facebook or foucaultblog.

Job offer

July 2017

The Institute of History at ETH Zurich (Prof. Dr. Harald Fischer-Tiné) invites applications for a Doctoral Position (100%) in the research project Cutting-edge Science at the Margins? — A Transnational History of Agricultural Research and ‘Rural Reconstruction’ Programmes in India (c. 1900–1940). See the job offer for further information.

The application has to be submitted by August 1st, 2017.

Job offer

June 2017 

The Chair of history of Medicine (Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (Prof. Dr. Flurin Condrau) at University of Zurich invites applications for 1 PhD position. See the job offer for further information.

The application has to be submitted by June 30, 2017.

Further information on the Chair: Website of the Chair

Academic Guest in May/ June 2017

From May to June we warmly welcome Prof. Dr. Tobias Rees from the Mc Gill University at the ZGW. More

Upcoming events:
Public Lecture: May 17, 2017
Title: How the Brain Outgrew its Histories. An Essay in Deteleologization
Place & Time: ETH Zürich, RZ building, Clausiusstrasse 59, 8092 Zurich, Room F 21, 6.15-8pm

Workshop: May 31, 2017
Title: The Emergence and Dissolution of (Medical) Knowledge. Uncertainty and Openness
Place & Time: ETH Zurich, Rämistrasse 101, HG F 33.5, 10am-7pm

New members

April 2017

We warmly welcome Prof. Dr. Sylvia Sasse (University of Zurich) as a new member at the ZGW and Dr. Sophie Witt (University of Zurich) as a new associated member. We are looking forward to stimulating exchange and productive discussions!