Archives for category: empire

Way back in the far-away-world of 2010 I was invited to attend the tenth of a series of symposia on Knowledge and Space sponsored by the Klaus Tschira Stiftung in the Studio Villa Bosch, Heidelberg.

It was one of the most stimulating academic events I’ve yet attended. Although I had by then already begun to read outside the discipline of History, I had been doing so in a somewhat haphazard and unguided manner. It was the 2010 symposium in Heidelberg that really opened up my eyes to the conversations about knowledge, space, mobility and technology taking place in Science Studies and Geography. At it I met several scholars whose work has deeply influenced my own and encountered new horizons for my research.

Now some of the papers from this event have been published as Mobilities of Knowledge (volume 10 in the Klaus Tschira Knowledge and Space Book Series). Together they examine how the geographical mobility of people and (im)material things has impacted epistemic systems of knowledge in different historical and geographical contexts. Thanks to Springer and the Klaus Tschira Stiftung the volume is available online and as open access(Other volumes from the series are available here)

My piece considers the changing appointment practices of universities in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain and its empire. It points to the importance of private knowledge and highlights the cultures of trust that shaped an academic geography that was both expansive and exclusionary.

But it should be the last thing you read. Check out this fantastic list of contributors!

Mobilities of Knowledge

Mobilities of Knowledge: An Introduction

Heike Jöns, Michael Heffernan, Peter Meusburger

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Circulation, Transfer, and Adaptation

Spatial Mobility of Knowledge: Communicating Different Categories of Knowledge

Peter Meusburger

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Papermaking: The Historical Diffusion of an Ancient Technique

Jonathan M. Bloom

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Circulating Seditious Knowledge: The “Daring Absurdities, Studied Misrepresentations, and Abominable Falsehoods” of William Macintosh

Innes M. Keighren

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Exploration as Knowledge Transfer: Exhibiting Hidden Histories

Felix Driver

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The Imprecise Wanderings of a Precise Idea: The Travels of Spatial Analysis

Trevor Barnes, Carl Christian Abrahamsson

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Knowledges in Disciplines and Cities: An Essay on Relations Between Archaeology and Social Sciences

Peter J. Taylor

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Mediators, Networks, and Learning

Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange between Scholars in Britain and the Empire, 1830–1914

Heather Ellis

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Geographies of Selection: Academic Appointments in the British Academic World, 1850–1939

Tamson Pietsch

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The University of Cambridge, Academic Expertise, and the British Empire, 1885–1962

Heike Jöns

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Geneva, 1919–1945: The Spatialities of Public Internationalism and Global Networks

Madeleine Herren

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The Spatial Mobility of Corporate Knowledge: Expatriation, Global Talent, and the World City

Jonathan V. Beaverstock

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Formal Education as a Facilitator of Migration and Integration: A Case Study of Nigerian University Graduates

Melanie Mbah

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Trans-knowledge? Geography, Mobility, and Knowledge in Transnational Education

Johanna L. Waters, Maggi Leung

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Back Matter

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FloatingUniversity2

In September 1926, 500 American university students left New York aboard the Floating University, on a journey around the world that involved stops at forty-seven ports and visits to foreign dignitaries including the King of Siam, the Sultan of Lahej, Mussolini and the Pope. Organised by New York University professor, James Edwin Lough, and promising a ‘world education’ to its students, the venture was influenced by new approaches to psychology and education, the internationalism of the period, as well as economic and social imperatives. But if its organisers thought the voyage would be a way for American students to know the world, it also became a laboratory for American imperial diplomacy, a stage for nationalist and anti-imperial politics, and a magnet for scandal.

For the last few years I’ve been chasing the Floating University and its 500 students in archives scattered across the United States and the world. I’ve found them in diaries and artwork and photographs and radio transcripts and legal records and newspaper articles. Much like the students on the ship, I’ve frequently found myself in unfamiliar surroundings, following leads down dark passageways and IT’S ALL SO INTERESTING. I mean who wouldn’t be diverted by the thrills and spills of what has often seemed the Great Gatsby version of a gap year?!

But more recently I’ve been trying to work out what the whole thing adds up to. There are so many possible angles of approach and there’s so many threads to the story that the project has sometimes seemed to me to be in danger of proliferating endlessly.  But for better of worse, I’ve got to begin. For the next few months, thanks to New College and the Rothermere American Institute, I have a desk in Oxford and my job is to put words on a page.

Which is obviously why I’m getting straight on with that task by writing this blog.

tardis2

The TARDIS can transport its occupants to any point in time and space.

Historians too often get a bad rap for being out of touch. Stuck in the ivory tower, so the story goes, neck deep in dusty archives and lost in their contemplation of dead white men and forgotten pasts. Where’s the relevance? is frequently the refrain.

Yet my Facebook feed tells a different story. The number of articles I see written by colleagues for public audiences seems to increase all the time.

Thinking temporally in public has got to be one of the most important things we can do as historians in a period of uncertainty and change. This means going beyond the ‘Historians Politely Remind Nation To Check What’s Happened In Past Before Making Any Big Decisions’ version of public commentary (although let’s be frank, sometimes the temptation to do that is just overwhelming) and instead thinking in public about time, its politics and its effects.

The uneven and unequal legacies of empire and capitalism are all around us, but so too – if we know how to look – are the tangible reminders that as a society we once thought social change possible and were prepared to back up our dreams with money and action. I can’t help thinking that the destruction of these reminders, as Oliver Watts points out in in his piece listed below, is part of a larger project of alienating us both from our history and the possibility of a different kind of future.

Because although not a template, history can be a inspiration, showing us that, through collective action, inherited structures can be changed. Institutionalised slavery can be abolisheduniversal public health free at the point of delivery can be establishedthe Franklin River can be saved. The long-term ramifications of our own society’s policies and actions are, therefore, also a matter for critical temporal thinking.

Time is not just an axis on which processes play out, it is political in itself. In this world of distributed digital processes and the marketisation of our everyday life we increasingly ‘spend’ our leisure time shopping for essential services – deciding which financial, educational or health ‘product’ to buy, and ferrying ourselves and family members across town to access them. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of people work on low-paid ‘zero hours’ contracts that leave them desperately insecure.

Universities are repositories of time in all of these senses. Produced by uneven structural processes (have you every wondered where the wealth that funded the bequests of Australia’s early universities came from?) they increasingly rely on casualised labour and the mortgaged futures of their debt-laden students.

But for all their faults, universities do still work with an understanding of time and human capacity that stretches beyond the frames of annual reports, funding cycles, government elections or even of individual careers. They draw the future into them with each new intake of students; they mix up the generations, and bring the living into contact with those long dead. They are places where deep and slow thinking is still possible. Not everyone wants or needs to live like this, but now, more than ever, as a society we need people who do.

If historians don’t think temporally, who will?

So Yay! to temporal thinking in the public domain. Yay! to the dexterity of the historical mind (cough). Yay! to a critical eye and longer view on questions that would otherwise appear to be of this moment only.

Here is this week’s haul of recent #PublicHist pieces by people wot I know, writing about stuff not always entirely within their field. If you can, give them the time (and the retweet) they deserve.

PS. I foresee a regular series on this #PublicHist friend-puff business, so please alert me to anything you have published that is directed at a public audience and I’ll add it to the next instalment.

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