class="csc-frame csc-frame-default"Who draws the line between knowledge and ignorance?

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 Spring 2019

In Spring 2019 the ZGW will hold three »Knowledge in Society«-events at Cabaret Voltaire:

March 6: Counter-Knowledge – From Critique of Science to »Alternative Facts«?

March 20: to be announced shortly

April 17: Safe Space Uni? Gender Politics and Discrimination in Science and Research

Wissen in Gesellschaft #19

April 17, 2019 (Flyer)

Safe Space Uni? Gender Politics and Discrimination in Science and Research


Inputs and Talk by Prof. Dr. Caroline Arni (Historian, University of Basel), Dr. des. Simona Isler (equal opportunities officer SNF), and PD Dr. Peter-Paul Bänziger (Historian, ZGW/University of Konstanz).

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

Wissen in Gesellschaft #17

March 6, 2019 (Poster/Flyer)

Counter-Knowledge – From Critique of Science to »Alternative Facts«?


Talk with Cornelia Hesse-Honegger (Knowledge Artist and Anti-Nuclear Activist), Reinhard Keil (Professor for Computer Science and Co-Founder of Wissenschaftsladen Berlin), and Roland Stulz (Architect and Co-Founder of 2000-watt society).

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


Job offer

February 2019

The Chair for History of Medicine (Prof. Dr. Flurin Condrau) at University of Zurich invites applications for an assistant position. See the job offer for further information (German).

The application has to be submitted by February 18, 2019.

For further information, see Website of the Chair.



Nachträglich, Grundlegend. Der Kommentar als Denkform der jüdischen Moderne von Hermann Cohen bis Jacques Derrida

Edited by Andreas B. Kilcher and Liliane Weissberg. Wallstein: 2018


Nach Feierabend – Zürcher Yearbook for History of Knowledge, Volume 14

"Material Histories"

November 2018

Edited by Michael Hagner and Christoph Hoffmann.

Masterprogramm MAGPW

Die Handelszeitung berichtet über das Masterprogramm "Geschichte und Philosophie des Wissens" (MAGPW) an der ETH. Hier der Artikel vom 8. November 2018


Wie die Welt in den Computer kam. Zur Entstehung digitaler Wirklichkeit

David Gugerli, S. Fischer Verlage: 2018


Die epistemologischen Jahre. Philosophie und Biologie in Frankreich, 1960–1980

Onur Erdur, Chronos Verlag: 2018.


Manipuliert! Die Schweizer Werbebranche kämpft um ihren Ruf, 1900–1989

David Eugster, Chronos Verlag: Zürich, 2018