Jürgen Renn




Renn, Jürgen (2012). Preface. In: The Globalization of Knowledge in History. Berlin: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften.

This volume presents results of an interdisciplinary research project on the globalization of knowledge. The project is centered at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. It was launched in 2007 at the 97th Dahlem Workshop on Globalization of Knowledge and its Consequences, a Dahlem Conference hosted by the Free University Berlin and supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The Dahlem Conferences, with their unique mode of scholarly interaction, have played a key role in fostering an interdisciplinary cooperation that covers a vast array of disciplines, cultures and historical periods. I am grateful to Katharina Ochse, as well as to my colleagues from the Advisory Board of the Dahlem Conferences, for initiating us into the procedures of this workshop model. The numerous documents, papers, commentaries, reviews and discussion statements that have been produced in the process have all turned out to be essential in producing this volume.

The project is part of the research program of a historical epistemology whose aim is to contribute also to the reflexivity of present science and its institutions. It pursues a comparative history of knowledge in which present processes of globalization are conceived as the outcome of historical developments and their interactions. The four research foci of the project have been chosen such that theoretical claims can be validated with reference to outstanding historical phases in which knowledge production, transmission and transformation were critical for advancing processes of intercultural exchange. The theoretical framework developed in the course of the project comprises a core set of concepts which should be extended and revised in the course of further research.

The scholarly network, established in 2007, has since been significantly expanded. The participating scholars have collaborated in a variety of meetings and exchanges dedicated to the production of this working group volume. In addition to the papers originally submitted at the Dahlem Conference, a number of invited contributions have been integrated. All contributions have been peer-reviewed and also partly revised by members of an internal board, which met on several occasions to discuss the overall results of the cooperation and their presentation in the introductory survey chapters to each of the four parts of this volume. The internal board comprised Peter Damerow, Kostas Gavroglu, Malcolm D. Hyman, Dagmar Schäfer, Matthias Schemmel and Milena Wazeck. Furthermore, Jens Braarvig, Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum, Yehuda Elkana, Fynn Ole Engler, J. Cale Johnson, Dan Potts, Milena Wazeck and Helge Wendt made quite substantial contributions or even drafted texts that are now integrated into the survey chapters. These chapters introduce each of the four parts of this volume which correspond to the research foci of the project.

We are grateful to all those who participated in the Dahlem Conference, and in particular, to the moderators and the rapporteurs for their lively discussions and manifold contributions to this volume. In the long process of revising and supplementing the original papers, the emerging volume was read and commented upon by several colleagues who made contributions that were also incorporated mostly into the survey chapters. We are grateful to Amund Bjørsnøs, Hansjörg Dilger, Gideon Freudenthal, Günther Görtz, Albert Presas a Puig, Martin Thiering, Gerd G. Wagner and Dirk Wintergrün for providing such contributions. In the attempt to connect the themes touched upon in this volume with the vast secondary literature available on them, we received and are grateful for the suggestions of Henry Junowicz, Horst Kant, Dietmar Kurapkat, Stephen Levinson, Veronika Lipphardt, Irad Malkin, Peter McLaughlin, Stefan Trzeciok and Han Vermeulen. For their help in the editorial process, we would also like to thank Heidi Allene Henrickson, Oona Leganovic, Barbara Lenk, Susan Richter, Rafaela Teixeira Zorzanelli and especially Marius Schneider. We would also like to acknowledge the close cooperation with the Excellence Cluster TOPOI – The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations.

The preparation of the introductory survey chapters was originally in the hands of the editor and Malcolm D. Hyman. Unfortunately, Malcolm died suddenly in September 2009, just after the first survey had been completed. Malcolm, a historian of science, linguist, classical philologist, Sanskrit scholar and information scientist, was one of the driving forces behind this research project. On his own initiative, he extended the project to launch a history of multilingualism which is now being pursued at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Malcolm’s ideas are omnipresent in this volume. He was an outstanding scholar and a warm and gentle human being, a unique mind whose loss is irreplaceable.

Up until he sadly passed away in November 2011, the mathematician and historian of science, Peter Damerow, the other driving force behind this project, worked intensively on this book. Without his initiative and persistence, it would not have come into being. He did not consider the history of science to be a specialized discipline, but rather a research area that was part of his comprehensive interest in the development of human cognition. In this sense, he was a pioneer of an interdisciplinary conception of the history of science and of its extension toward a history of knowledge, as is reflected in the subject matter of this book. His early works on the emergence of writing and counting make clear that the emergence of abstract concepts can be understood only if we take seriously the role of those representations of knowledge that are given in concrete historical cases, and the potential for actions and reflection they enable, as for instance, the specific role played by cuneiform script tablets in the administration of Babylonia. This insight enabled him to contribute to completely different fields, for instance, to cultural anthropology and more generally to the study of non-European knowledge traditions. This book hopefully somewhat reflects the vision of a developmental history of knowledge that Peter Damerow brought to the Max Planck Institute when he joined it in 1994.

Apart from the contributions of Malcolm D. Hyman and Peter Damerow, it was above all the editorial work of Lindy Divarci that made this work possible. She was at the center of the network of communications with authors and referees, implementing revisions, compiling the bibliography, adjusting formats, and ensuring the coherence of the enterprise. The material forming the basis of this volume was quite heterogeneous, originating in different disciplines each with their own standards and from different linguistic backgrounds, with greater or lesser affinity to academic English. Lindy’s competence and professionality in transforming disparate contributions into chapters of a book are unsurpassed.

The volume should serve as an encouragement to all those who risk taking on intellectual challenges that cannot be confined to disciplinary fields. It is not meant to be a documentation of definitive results, let alone a comprehensive historical survey, but rather presents research in flux. This book is an invitation to other scholars to contribute to the ongoing work and discussions on the globalization of knowledge in history.

Jürgen Renn, Berlin, 12 April 2012