This workshop examines epistemic processes of exchange and demarcation in different fields of the early modern Republic of Letters. Based on examples taken from the histories of medicine, grammar, rhetoric and mathematics, and from the reception of Thales of Miletus in the 18th century, we wish to reflect upon the epistemic amalgamations emerging from the interactions between traditional scholarship and new (practical) knowledge. In terms of such economies of knowledge, the example of the French academic prize contests suggests that the learned societies, despite their contrasting self-portrayals, not only represented the vanguard of the new experimental observation of nature, they were also continuously shaped by traditional rhetorical and dialectical modes of knowledge and by oral forms of knowledge discussion well into the 18th century.
At the same time, we want to focus on the mechanisms of distinction and exclusion that also seem inherent to economies of knowledge. Taking a closer look at the physicians and apothecaries at the College of Physicians and the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in 17th-century London, it becomes clear that the attempts at a definition of regular medical knowledge and practices also served to distinguish one’s own peer group as well as to delegitimise the other competitors in the field. Similar mechanisms become apparent between early modern grammarians and more practice-oriented language teachers with regard to their conceptions of the ‘correct’ language set out in the first grammars and modern foreign language textbooks from the 15th to the 17th century. In both historical cases, lines of demarcation are drawn and epistemic territories are marked within shared fields of knowledge, notably by referring to new practical knowledge. Finally, the divergent receptions of Thales of Miletus in the 18th century demonstrate that economies of knowledge cannot be analysed without considering the discursive construction of traditions, of the narratives through which historical agents describe themselves and others.
Concept: Linda Gennies, Anna Laqua, Martin Urmann and Helge Wendt
The workshop will be held in English.