Histories of Ignorance

The editorial board of Journal for the History of Knowledge is pleased to announce the selected theme for the 2021 special issue: Histories of Ignorance.

Guest editors will be Lukas Verburgt (Utrecht) and Peter Burke (Cambridge).


Our suggestion for the 2020s and beyond is that the new field of the history of knowledge should also be a history of ignorance, both of what is known in German as Unwissen (general ignorance) and Nichtwissen (ignorance of something specific).

It is simply impossible to draw a sharp contrast between the production and circulation of knowledge, on the one hand, and that of ignorance, on the other hand: rather, we should study the changing and hierarchical relationship between them. What becomes clear is that the central questions standing at the heart of the history of knowledge are, in fact, questions about the connections between what is known and unknown, what is knowable and unknowable and who is deemed knowledgeable and unknowledgeable in different epochs and cultures.

Both a tour d’horizon and a programmatic outline of the historical study of a highly timely topic, in science as well as in society, this agenda-setting special issue brings together a diverse group of scholars. Their contributions explore ignorance in different places and periods and from perspectives ranging from the history of science to global history and social anthropology – each emphasizing how ignorance is, and should be, central to every history of knowledge. 

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