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This volume brings historians of science and social historians together to consider the role of "little tools"—such as tables, reports, questionnaires, dossiers, index cards—in establishing academic and bureaucratic claims to authority and objectivity.
From at least the eighteenth century onward, our science and society have been planned, surveyed, examined, and judged according to particular techniques of collecting and storing knowledge. Recently, the seemingly self-evident nature of these mundane epistemic and administrative tools, as well as the prose in which they are cast, has demanded historical examination.
The essays gathered here, arranged in chronological order by subject from the late seventeenth to the late twentieth century, involve close readings of primary texts and analyses of academic and bureaucratic practices as parts of material culture. The first few essays, on the early modern period, largely point to the existence of a "juridico-theological" framework for establishing authority. Later essays demonstrate the eclipse of the role of authority per se in the modern period and the emergence of the notion of "objectivity."
Most of the essays here concern the German cultural space as among the best exemplars of the academic and bureaucratic practices described above. The introduction to the volume, however, is framed at a general level; the closing essays also extend the analyses beyond Germany to broader considerations on authority and objectivity in historical practice.
The volume will interest scholars of European history and German studies as well as historians of science.
Peter Becker is Professor of Central European History, European University Institute.
William Clark is Lecturer in History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University.