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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 2020

Public Lecture & Talk, September 28
: Prof. Dr. Armin Nassehi (invited) on digital society, talk with Prof. Dr. Monika Dommann (UZH), at the Literaturhaus Zürich 

Public Lecture & Talk, October 8: Prof. Dr. Massimiano Bucchi (Trento) on the public understanding of science in Italy

Public Lecture, October 14: Prof. Amos Morris-Reich (Tel Aviv University)

Knowledge in Society #24, November 11: with Dr. Janina Kehr (Bern) and Prof. Dr. Flurin Condrau (UZH) on the health system in times of Corona

Knowledge in Society #25, November 25: with Prof. Dr. Adrian Daub (Stanford) on the Silicon Valley and the intellectual histories of digital capitalism, talk with Dr. Monika Wulz (ETHZ) and Prof. Dr. Michael Hagner (ETHZ)

More information on the program will follow soon.

Wissen in Gesellschaft #22

March 17, 2020

Wie denkt das Valley? Eine Ideengeschichte des digitalen Kapitalismus
(poster / leaflet)

Lecture by Prof. Dr. Adrian Daub (Stanford University, Literature), & talk with Dr. Monika Wulz und Prof. Dr. Michael Hagner (both ETHZ / ZGW).

in cooperation with the Chair for Science Studies at the ETH Zürich. 

Place & time Cabaret Voltaire, Spiegelgasse 1, 8001 Zürich, 7 pm
(be aware: extraordinarily, the event will take place on a Tuesday)

Kriegsmaterial im Kalten Krieg

March 18, 2020 CANCELLED
book presentation in the Archiv für Zeitgeschichte

with the editors Monika Dommann and Sybille Marti, and others

Im Kalten Krieg galt die Schweiz als ein der Neutralitätspolitik verpflichtetes Land, das sich für humanitäre Zwecke engagierte. Der genaue Blick auf die Geschichte der Rüstungsindustrie zeigt jedoch ein anderes, ambivalenteres, hochpolitisches und direkt mit weltweiten Konfliktlagen verbundenes Bild. (Flyer)

Place & time: Archiv für Zeitgeschichte, Hirschengraben 62, 8001 Zürich, 6:15-7:30 pm

ZGW Colloquium

March 25, 2020

Lecture by Prof. Dr. Massimiano Bucchi (University of Trento & ETH guest professor for Italian literature and culture).

Scienza, tecnologia e opinione pubblica in Italia / Science, technology and public opinion in Italy
(Flyer, in Italian with German translation)

After the lecture there will be a talk with the historian Prof. Dr. Monika Dommann (UZH / ZGW).

Place & Time: ETH Zürich, Rämistrasse 101 HG D 1.2, 6.15-8pm

Sensory and Emotional Experiences

Practices of Mind-Body Medicine in the 20th Century
March 30-31, 2020 

Workshop with Prof. Staffan Bergwik (Stockholm) and PD Dr. Anja Laukötter (Berlin/Strasbourg)

Venue: University of Zurich, FSW (Seminar room) Rämistrasse 64, 8001 Zurich
Organized by the ZGW Doctoral Program (Leander Diener, Sarah Scheidmantel, Josephine Selander)


Der Zionismus und die Wissenschaft
March 30-31, 2020 (program)

with Prof. Dr. Christian Wiese Martin-​Buber-Professur für Jüdische Religionsphilosophie, Goethe-​Universität Frankfurt & ETH guest professor »Science and Jewish Culture«
Prof. Dr. Andreas Kilcher (ETH Zürich, Professur für Literatur und Kulturwissenschaft & ZGW)

Place: Archiv für Zeitgeschichte, Hirschengraben 62, 8001 Zürich
Please register here until March 20.



All ZGW events are cancelled due to the Corona outbreak until further notice. We will try to postpone them to fall 2020. 


Kriegsmaterial im Kalten Krieg – Le matériel de guerre pendant la guerre froide
Rüstungsgüter in der Schweiz zwischen Militär, Industrie, Politik und Öffentlichkeit L’armement en Suisse – entre l’armée, l’industrie, la politique et le public
(Itinera 47)

Monika Dommann, Sibylle Marti (eds.), Schwabe: Basel/Berlin, 2020


Congratulations to Manuel Dür for successfully defending his dissertation thesis!

Guest Professor »Science and Jewish Culture«

We are happy to welcome Prof Dr. Christian Wiese (Goethe-​Universität Frankfurt am Main) as our guest professor for »Science and Jewish Culture« in Spring 2020.

Prof. Wiese will teach a seminar on »Nationalismus und Postnationalismus im modernen Judentum: Geschichte und aktuelle Debatten« in November (Link).

Academic Guests

We are happy to welcome Idit Cikurel (PostDoc) and Maya Romann (PhD student) as academic guests at ZGW in spring semester 2020 in our exchange program with the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosphy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University . 

Guest Professor »Science and Jewish Culture«

We are happy to welcome Dr. Tamar Novick (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science) as our guest professor for »Science and Jewish Culture« in Fall 2019.

Dr. Novick will teach a seminar on »The Animals We Know« in November (Link).

Job Posting

The chair für History of Medicine (Prof. Flurin Condrau) at University of Zurich searches for a PhD-student and a Postdoc: Stellenausschreibung (in German)