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Encountering Science, Knowledge and Nature in the Early Modern World

Research Seminar

Organised by Prof. Giancarlo Casale,  Dr Meira Gold (Max Weber Fellow) and Prof. Stéphane Van Damme
Registration code: HEC-RS-ENCSCI-19
Block seminar: 20, 24, 27 January 2020 (9:00-18:00, Sala del Torrino)

Admin. Assistant: Miriam Curci


Enrolled participants only

Seminar description

After several decades of epistemological and empirical discussions, historians of knowledge found a way to consolidate the heuristic position of their discipline by making it more global in scope. The global history of knowledge has the advantage of provincializing Europe by giving equal status to Chinese, Arabic knowledge or Ottoman sciences, without the need to insist on the particularity of western knowledge. The end of exceptionalism enabled them to grasp the slow globalisation of knowledge and its link to particular processes of political, economic, and cultural globalisation or internationalization.

However, this historiographical shift does seem enough to understand the early modern word and gives the impression that process of globalization and capitalocene replaced the global diffusion of western modern sciences as a master narrative. Therefore, the last decade has seen a proliferation of historiographical approaches dealing with encounters in microhistorical perspectives, from connected history to go-betweens, empires in the material turn, cultural areas, contact zones, multi-naturalism, anthropology’s comparative ontologies, the environment, the Anthropocene, the history of sciences and the global history of knowledge, all seeking to escape the grand Eurocentric narrative of the Scientific Revolution and adopt a more global vision, entering into dialogue with cultures that lie beyond the confines of science and empire. Big is no longer beautiful enough to underpin the work of our discipline.

This research seminar would like to provide a critical discussion of this current scholarship about the multiple processes of knowing the world in a comparative perspective.


20 January: Why Encounters Matter?

Session 1 (9:15-11:00): Introductory Session

  • Raj, Kapil. 2016. "Go-Betweens, travelers, and cultural translators. " in B. Lightman (ed.), A companion to the history of science, London: Blackwell, 39-57.
  • Michael T. Bravo, « Ethnographic Navigation and the Geographical Gift », in David N. Livingstone et Charles W. J. Withers (dir.), Geography and Enlightenment, Chicago, London, The University of Chicago Press, 1999, pp. 199-235.
  • Sujit Sivasundaram, 'Sciences and the Global: On Methods, Questions, and Theory', Isis, 101, no. 1 (2010), pp. 146-58.

Session 2 (11:15-13:00): Encountering Mathematics, Mathematizing Nature

  • Geoffrey Gorham and Benjamin Hill (eds.), The language of nature. Reassessing the mathematization of natural philosophy (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2015)
  • Matthew Melvin-Koushki, “How to Rule the World: Occult-Scientific Manuals of the Early Modern Persian Cosmopolis,” Journal of Persianate Studies, 11/2 (2018): 140-54.
  • Yulia Frumer, Making Time. Astronomical Time Measurement in Tokugawa Japan (Chicago, 2018), introduction.

Session 3 (14:00-16:00): Encountering Missionary Knowledge in the Phillipines

Research lectures by Mark Dizon (EUI researcher), “Information Gathering and Map Making in a Philippine Frontier” and Ryan Crewe (Fernand Braudel Fellow), “Monsoonal Missions: Encountering and Interpreting Asia in Manila, 1570-1700”

24 January: Ethnography, translation, travels

Session 1 (9:15-11:00): Comparative and Mobile Philology

  • Rajeev Kinra, “Cultures of Comparative Philology in the Early Modern Indo-Persian World,” Philological Encounters 1/1 (Jan. 2016):225-287.
  • Lorraine Daston and Glenn Most, “Histories of Science, Histories of Philology”, Isis, Vol. 106, No. 2 (June 2015): 378-390.
  • Stéphane Van Damme, “Mobile Philology and the Invisible Library,” in John Tresh et Pasquale Guiglardi eds, Bibliotechnica. Humanist Practices in the digital ages, Venice, Cini Fondation, 2018, p. 118-132.

Session 2 (11:15-13:00): Printing the World, Language and translation

Research lecture by Fabien Simon (Paris-Diderot University): “Printing the World in Paris: typographical circulations around the ‘Oriental workshop’ of the Imprimerie nationale, 17th-19th centuries”

Sessions 3&4 (14:15-18:00) : Florence Museum of Anthropology Visit

  • Neil Safier, “Masked observers and mask collectors. Entangled visions from the eighteenth-century Amazon,” Colonial Latin American Review, 26-1, 2017, p. 104-130.
  • Chris Mankowski," Sanskrit Scientific Libraries and Their Uses," in Bretelle-Establet, ed., Looking at It from Asia: The Processes that Shaped the Sources in the History of Science (Springer, 2010), 81-115. 

27 January: Materializing Encounters: field works and artefacts

Session 1 (9:15-11:00): Global Antiquarianism, Archaeology, and History

  • Alfredo Gonzales-Ruibal, “The Virtues of Oblivion: Africa and the Peoples without Antiquarianism,” in Rojas and Anderson eds, Antiquarianisms: Contact, Conflict, Comparisons, Oxbow, 2017, pp.31-48
  • Stéphane Van Damme, “Enlightenment on Hudson River. Did Mohawks have a philosophy?,” in Catherine Koenig-Pralong and al. eds., The Territories of Modern Philosophy, Trunhout, Brepols, 2019.
  • Partha Mitter, 'Eighteenth-Century Antiquarians and Erotic Gods', in Much Maligned Monsters, OUP, 2013.

Session 2 (11:15-13:00): Archaeologies of Archaeology

Research lecture by Meira Gold (Max Weber Fellow): "Science in the Field: Heroic Archaeology, Reliable Witnessing, and Invisible Labour in Egyptology."  

Sessions 3 (14:15-16:00): Concluding Session: Cosmopolitanism or contributionism?

  • Druv Raina, "Circulation and Cosmopolitanism in 18th Century Jaipur; The Workshop of Jyotishis Nujumi and Jesuit Astronomers"
  • James Delbourgo, “The Knowing world: A new global history of science,” History of science (2019), p. 1-27




Page last updated on 09 January 2020