The Collaborative Research Centre Episteme in Motion is dedicated to studying knowledge change in selected premodern cultures from Europe and beyond. The Centre investigates longue-durée processes of knowledge change in particular historical configurations and develops a methodology for their description. While there has been a wide-spread tendency to view premodern knowledge as primarily static – both within the premodern cultures themselves but also in the eyes of modern scholars – the Centre’s guiding hypothesis is that premodern knowledge was subject to constant change, especially in cases where there have been powerful claims to the contrary.
For the purpose of understanding the specific dynamics of premodern knowledge change, the Centre has developed two closely-linked analytical terms: ‘episteme’ and ‘transfer’. ‘Episteme’ conceives of knowledge as a ‘knowledge of something’ that is always invested with some claim to validity – a claim which becomes manifest in particular discourses and practices and can never be understood without a consideration of its mediality and materiality. The term ‘transfer’, as understood by the Centre, denotes a form of knowledge change that consists in re-contextualisations that transform knowledge within new configurations and entanglements. Precisely because knowledge change is thus marked by constantly shifting reciprocal relations, its analysis makes it necessary to overcome traditional categories such as ‘period’ or ‘culture’.
As a consequence of these observations, the Centre has developed the concept of ‘Oikonomies of knowledge’ that encapsulates the multidirectional dynamism of premodern processes of knowledge change, as well as rendering analytically accessible the implicit norms, selection processes, invisible rules and power structures that shape the transformation of knowledge. During the Centre’s third funding period, a new concept, ‘momentum’, will play a key role for the Centre’s research programme. ‘Momentum’ is designed to yield insight into the particular impulses within the multidirectionality that is central to knowledge change.