class="csc-frame csc-frame-default"What does knowledge society a know?

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) has been – from 2005 to the beginning of 2022 – a leading scientific center of excellence of the University of Zurich (Center of Competence) and the ETH Zurich (D-GESS) that aimed to promote and coordinate cultural, historical and philosophical research and teaching on modern knowledge systems and knowledge societies. The ZGW was a center for scientific research as well as a platform for public reflection on the role of knowledge in modern societies.

At the end of 2021, ZGW faculty comprised twelve professors from the University of Zurich and six professors of the ETH Zurich. The associated faculty consisted of 18 members (Post-Docs). In this way, the ZGW brought 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 had a master program and a doctoral program, which will both be continued after the end of the ZGW, as well as the academic exchange program with the University of Tel Aviv.

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.

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, end of 2021, ca. 20 PhD students and a master program. 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.


Last conference of the ZGW: The Occult in the History of Science, Art, and Religion

PhD Thesis Workshop, January 20–23, 2022
Congress Center Monte Verità, Ascona

The interdisciplinary workshop seeks to explore scientific and aesthetic approaches to the occult through manifold lenses, working against familiar disenchantment narratives that scientific reasoning and Enlightenment world views alienated modernity from occult practices, the natural world and the divine. For this workshop, the terms “occultism” or “the occult” are viewed in an expanded manner, as an effort to produce and interrogate knowledge of “invisible” realities. Analyses of occultism are thus not restricted to religious traditions, practices and phenomena; they also concern the wider aesthetic and scientific formation and transformation of modernity.

The workshop is organized by the ZGW together with the ESSWE – The European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism, and the Chair for Literature and Cultural Studies of ETH Zurich. It forms part of the academic exchange program of the ZGW with the Cohn institute at Tel Aviv University,
 generously supported by the Daniel Gablinger-Stiftung.

Religiöser Anarchismus und Judentum als Schicksal: Gustav Landauer und seine Freunde

Öffentlicher Vortrag, 20. Dezember 2021 von Prof. Yossef Schwartz (Tel Aviv University) 18.15 bis 19.45 Uhr (Poster)

Der Vortrag findet im Rahmen der Ringvorlesung „Devianz und Häresie – Abweichung im Judentum“ der Sigi Feigel-Gastprofessur für Jüdische Studien an der UZH sowie des internationalen akademischen Austauschprogramms mit dem Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas an der Tel Aviv University, gefördert von der Daniel Gablinger-Stiftung.

Ort: Theologisches Seminar, Kirchgasse 9, 8001 Zürich, Raum KIR-200
Eintritt frei

Mathematical Creativity in the Digital Era

Hybrid Public Lecture, October 25th, 2021
by Prof. Leo Corry (Tel Aviv University)
18.15–20.00 (poster)

A prevailing ideal of mathematical knowledge that consolidated towards the end of the nineteenth century, particularly in number theory, celebrated theory development as the pinnacle of mathematical creativity and downplayed the role of specific computations as mere mechanical aids for the discipline. Working under this ideal, mathematicians of several generations attained remarkable success. The rise of high-speed electronic computation since the mid-twentieth century, however, has challenged this ideal.

The public lecture is a cooperation with the Turing Centre and its lecture series

In fall semester 2021, Leo Corry is academic guest at the ZGW. The international exchange program with the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at the University of Tel Aviv is generously funded by the Daniel Gablinger-Stiftung.

Venue: ETH Zurich, main building, D1.2
Zoom: Link

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:

Epistemologies of the Non-Logos

Public lecture
October 20, 2021

by Prof. Felwine Sarr (Anne-Marie Bryan Distinguished Professor of Romance Studies at Duke University / Visiting Professors of French Literature and Culture at ETH Zurich)
Epistemologies of the Non-Logos
In this lecture, Sarr proposes to rethink the plurality of journeys of human thinking, starting from the idea of equality in principle of the different traditions of thought or discursive practices, while acknowledging their incommensurability. This leads Sarr to consider these different traditions of thought, from their horizons, and the configurations of the thinkable which they propose; as unique journeys of the mind which have developed concurrently, shaped by the cultures from which they originate.(poster)

Time & place: 18:15-19:45, ETH Zurich, Haldeneggsteig 4, IFW A 36
Due to Covid 19 measures and rules, access to the lecture is only possible with Covid certificate and mask.

Further information here.

Marie Curie: Biographical Constructions of a Scientific Heroine

Colloquium of the ETH Chair for Science Studies
October 13, 2021 (program)

Presentation by Tuvaal Klein. In fall semester 2021, Tuvaal Klein is an academic guest at the ZGW. The international exchange program with the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at the University of Tel Aviv is generously funded by the Daniel Gablinger-Stiftung.

Place & time: ETH Zurich, Claussiusstrasse 59, RZ F 21, 16:15.

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 ZGW will close its (virtual) doors in early 2022. After seventeen years of highly productive and creative work with countless events, publications and collaborations, the members of the ZGW have decided to close the center at the beginning of 2022. The ZGW has achieved its goal and contributed to establishing the history of knowledge as an approach in the historical and cultural sciences. It has fulfilled its mission to promote young scholars in the history of knowledge and to bring perspectives on the history of knowledge into public debates. Given this success, it is time to break new ground. With the conclusion of the ZGW, years of successful cooperation will end, but the insights and networks will remain and some programs will be continued independently: the Master program on the history and philosophy of knowledge MAGPW at ETH Zurich, the doctoral cooperation between ETHZ and UZH, and the academic exchange program with the Cohn Institute of Tel Aviv University, which in the future will also be jointly supported by the Department of History UZH and the Departement GESS (Knowledge section) at the ETH Zurich. With the end of the ZGW, we would like to create space for new, contemporary forms of research cooperation in the history of knowledge at the research location of Zurich. Because one thing is clear: History of knowledge will also be needed in the future.

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 and have a lecture on "Images from the History of Science". 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. 


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

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


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