What is Geographies of Knowledge?

The early modern world was characterized by the integration and fragmentation of space that arose from the increasing mobility and interaction of peoples and objects. Scholars in both the sciences and the humanities have been paying increasing attention to questions of space, place, sites, and mobility. Rooted in critical interdisciplinary approaches, this “spatial turn” has enabled historians, geographers, and social scientists to contextualize more fully the production of knowledge by demonstrating the diverse ways in which peoples, texts, objects, and images interacted with and represented physical environments. This framework has particular value for revealing the global, polycentric dimensions of how ideas were generated, refashioned, and transmitted in the early modern period. 

“Global Geographies of Knowledge” focuses on the fluid processes of encountering and transmitting ideas about peoples and objects in physical and imaginary landscapes. Conversely, this Institute also analyzes how such ideas affected the human and nonhuman relations with specific sites and environments. It also seeks to consider how, on the eve of industrialization, knowledge had increasingly developed into a commodity available for exchange as means to functional ends. This new narrative provides a multidirectional and polycentric approach to understanding the ways in which diverse peoples made sense of the world and were in turn positioned by the knowledge that they created.

This Institute seeks to bring together higher education faculty and advanced PhD students from around the country to deepen their knowledge and research using critical ways of thinking spatially in the humanities and social sciences and to develop innovative ways of applying them to themes in world history and cultures of knowledge in the classroom. It will introduce the participants to the conceptual and methodological tools they need in the classroom to reflect on how processes of knowledge transformation, even imperial processes, depended on native ways of knowing, both at a local and global scale of analysis. We believe that these themes will appeal to college and university teachers who wish to take advantage of new scholarship on world history, material culture, the history of empires and ideas, and spatial analysis, but who have not found time to master it. 

Our study of knowledge production and circulation will be articulated around four focused topics: 1) new theoretical approaches to early modern sites and spaces of knowledge, 2) moving parts and agents of knowledge circulations, 3) mapping knowledge and its boundaries, and 4) processes of assimilation and conflicts associated with the commodification of knowledge in the past. Over the course of four weeks of intensive reading, presentations, discussions, and independent work, “Global Geographies of Knowledge” will provide participants with new methods, debates, sources, and ideas for their existing courses, for new courses, and for their own intellectual enrichment. Our Institute will support producing syllabi, readings, exercises, learning outcomes, assessments, and other materials to enhance existing world history courses or develop new courses with historical geographic themes. Such courses might focus on empire building, religious encounters, migration, long-distance trade, cartography, transregional knowledge networks, histories of science, disease, art, environments, commodities, enslavement, warfare, and a myriad of other themes. Our goal is to equip teachers with the intellectual and methodological tools to convey the importance of spatial analysis and global history to students.

Image Above: Kangnido Map,1402. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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