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 Spring 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. In addition, we are very much looking forward to welcoming, Prof. Dr. Tobias Rees at the ZGW.

The following events are scheduled for the upcoming semester:
March, 8: ZGW Kolloquium with Prof. Dr. Joseph Masco
March, 22: Wissen in Gesellschaft "Ethnological exhibitions"
April, 5: ZGW Kolloquium with Prof. Dr. Mark Solovey
April, 26: Wissen in Gesellschaft "The Library: Reading and Inventing"
Mai, 17: ZGW Kolloquium with Prof. Dr. Tobias Rees, guest at ZGW

See the complete program here.

On Mathematical Thought

Inaugural lecture: Februar 27, 2017

Prof. Dr. Roy Wagner, ETH Zürich

Place & Time: ETH Zurich, main campus, HG F 30, 5-6.30pm

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ZGW Kolloquium

March 8, 2017

Lecture: Prof. Dr. Joseph Masco (University of Chicago)

On Planetary Accountability: The New Nuclear Age (Abstract)

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

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Transnational Perspectives on Civil Defense from the Cold War Era to the Present Day

International Exploratory Workshop: March 9-10, 2017 (Poster)

with Prof. Dr. Joseph Masco (University of Chicago). More information available here.

Organized by Silvia Berger Ziauddin (UZH), Sarah Robey (Temple University) and Peter Bennesved (Umeå University) in cooperation with the Work Group Cold War Knowledge.

Place & Time: Universität Zürich, Rämistrasse 71, 8006 Zürich, room KOL G212, 9.3.: 9am-7pm, 10.3.: 9am-6.30pm

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ZGW Kolloquium

April 5, 2017

Lecture: Prof. Dr. Mark Solovey (University of Toronto)

Controversies and Consequences: The Marginalization of the Social Sciences at the U.S. National Science Foundation, 1960s to 1980s. (Abstract)

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

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Cold War Social Sciences

Workshop: April 6, 2017 (Flyer)

with Prof. Dr. Mark Solovey (University of Toronto).
From World War II to the early 1970s, social science research expanded in dramatic and unprecedented fashion in the United States, which became the world's acknowledged leader in the field. In this workshop we discuss how the expansion of the social sciences depended on the entanglement of them with the Cold War. The Cold War Social Sciences is a two-hour workshop in which postdocs and PhD students prepare by reading selected texts that will be discussed in the workshop.

Organized by the Work Group Cold War Knowledge.

Please register in advance here.

Place & Time: University of Zurich, Karl Schmid-Strasse 4, 8004 Zürich, room KO2-F 175, 4-6pm

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Trump Reveals the Use of the Humanities

February 2017

Read the article of Michael Hagner on democracy and science in the NZZ (Feb 10).

Job offer

January 2017

The Chair for Science Studies (Prof. Dr. Michael Hagner) at ETH Zurich invites applications for 1 PhD position. Further information on the Chair: Website of the Chair

In addition to a letter of motivation, CV, copies of academic degrees and certificates, your application should include an outline of your research project (approx. 2000 words), a writing sample (e.g. published paper or chapter of your Master thesis), and the contact details of two referees. The application has to be submitted by February 28, 2017. Please send it by email to Sara A. Booz

We wish you...

...all the best for 2017

New members

December 2016

We warmly welcome Prof. Dr. Roy Wagner (ETH Zurich) as a new member at the ZGW and Dr. Stefan Leins (University of Zurich)as a new associated member. We are looking forward to stimulating exchange and productive discussions! 

Job offer

December 2016 

The Chair for Modern History (Prof. Dr. Monika Dommann) at University of Zurich invites applications for 1 PhD position in the SNF-Sinergia-Project "Medien der Genauigkeit". See the job offer for further information.

The online application has to be submitted by January 15th, 2017.

Further information on the research group: Website of the Chair


December 2016

Margarete Pratschke receives the Caroline von Humboldt-Preis der Humboldt Universität Berlin. Congratulations! more