class="csc-default"History of Knowledge, to what end?

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 2018

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. Yosef Schwartz and Dr. Einat Klafter (Exchange Program »Knowledge in Society«) as well as Prof. Dr. Robert Jütte (Guest professor »Science and Jewish Culture«) as academic guests at the ZGW. 

The following events are scheduled for the upcoming semester:

October, 3: ZGW Colloquium with Prof. Dr. Andrew Zimmerman

Oktober, 17: Knowledge in Society #15 "Autonomy in the digital age"

October, 31: ZGW Colloquium with Prof. Dr. Felicity Callard

November, 14: Knowledge in Society #16 "Humor & Subversion – a Myth?"

November, 28: ZGW Colloquium with Prof. Dr. Eve Chiapello

Full program here (in German).

Symposium: The Science of Systems and Life: Alternative Philosophies, new Mathematics

October 26, 2018

We are a group of mathematicians who denounce a mathematization of the world oriented towards purely quantitative analyses and reductionism, rather than invention and construction of understanding. We are instead interested in the historical emergence of meaning in changing spaces of possibilities as well as in the production of sense in science and in the personal activity of the researcher.

Symposium with Prof. Dr. Giuseppe Longo (Paris, Boston), Dr. Maël Montévil (Paris), and Prof. Dr. Alessandro Sarti (Paris); organized by Prof. Dr. Roy Wagner and PD Dr. Norman Siekora.


Time: 10.50am - 5pm
Place: ETH Zurich, RZ F 21, Clausiusstrasse 59, 8092 Zurich

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ZGW Colloquium

October 31, 2018

Lecture: Prof. Dr. Felicity Callard (Birkbeck, University of London)

Daydream archive: tracking normal and abnormal inner life in the clinic, factory, school, and laboratory

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

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ZGW Colloquium

November 28, 2018

Lecture: Prof. Dr. Eve Chiapello (EHESS Paris)

Understanding the History of Public Policies – Management Tools & Governmental Knowledge (Abstract)

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

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

David Eugster, Chronos Verlag: Zürich, 2018


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

Onur Erdur, Chronos Verlag: 2018.

Call for Papers

May 2018

Political Culture and the History of Knowledge: Actors, Institutions, Practices
Joint Conference at the German Historical Institute Washington DC, June 6-8, 2019

By investigating the role of knowledge in politics, the proposed conference will seek to foster a transatlantic debate on the merits of using knowledge as a category of historical analysis. (CfP)

Please send your one-page abstract of no more than 400 words and a short CV of no more than 2 pages in one combined PDF-file to the GHI’s event coordinator by June 30th, 2018.

Kerstin von der Krone, Simone Lässig (both German Historical Institute Washington DC), Kijan Espahangizi, Nils Güttler, Monika Wulz (all Center “History of Knowledge” at the University Zurich and the ETH Zurich) und
Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer (Institute of the Formation of Knowledge at the University of Chicago)


Medienökonomien. Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft 18 (1).
with contributions by Monika Dommann, Vinzenz Heidiger, Florian Hoof et al.

transcript Verlag: 2018.

New ZGW Board

March 2018

We want to thank Svenja Goltermann and Lutz Wingert for the good cooperation during their time as the director of the ZGW and vice director!

We are very much looking forward to the cooperation with Roy Wagner and Monika Dommann, who are going to be the new co-directors of the ZGW.

New associated member at ZGW

March 2018

We warmly welcome our new associated member Dr. Janosch Steuwer at the ZGW and are looking forward to stimulating exchange and productive collaborations!