In the last decade, the term ‘local knowledge’ has gained a certain importance as an analytical concept, due to the rise of the history of knowledge and growing historiographical research into the micro-analysis of globalizing processes. However, it is not always clear in what sense this catchy term is used. In most contexts, the label is used for every kind of indigenous knowledge within non-western civilizations, in others, for the “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place” (Friedrich Hayek), or the very limited spread of certain information. In these contexts, ‘local knowledge’ is reduced to a merely residual category of all the knowable content which seems to be historically and socially relevant but which is not that easy to grasp. Local knowledge is used as non-western, non-scientific, or non-universal knowledge, but without a very clear analytical value of its own. This panel explores the analytical power of the term ‘local knowledge,’ based on recent results of the historiography of knowledge, when ‘knowledge’ is used as a category to counter-balance evolutionist epistemologies, essentialisms, and unilateral ideas of the accumulation of knowledge. To avoid interference with ‘colonial knowledge,’ we chose colonial and non-colonial situations in the early modern world which are geographically widespread, over four continents. Thus, the term can be developed as highly necessary, effective, and practical mode to cope with adversity and hardship. It demonstrates adaptations of foreign knowledge to meet local needs and is embedded in rituals, rumors, visual sources, and materiality.
Tobias Graf (Oxford)
Local Knowledge for Decision Making: Austrian-Habsburg Intelligence in Late 16th-Century Istanbul
Although often conflated with espionage, intelligence means a wider process of gathering information to support political and military decision making. On the basis of examples from late 16th-century Habsburg empire, this paper argues that the concept of local knowledge allows understanding the essential obstacle to intelligence work not as secrecy, but as a general problem of access to information. Local information collected in this way required translation so that it could become knowledge useful for distant decision makers. Paying attention to these processes is vital for any attempt to seriously study cultures of political decision making.
Anne Mariss (Regensburg)
Tracing Local Knowledge in Early Modern Objects: The Case of a Rosary in the Munich Cabinet of Curiosities
The Cabinet of Curiosities founded by Duke Albert V in Munich in the 1560s was among the first princely collections conceived as a site for the production, storage, and display of universal knowledge. The paper shows that it is possible to trace the potential origin of a curious paternoster and its materiality by using contemporary medical treatises and images. By exploring the materiality of the object, the paper aims at linking the study of material culture to the study of both local and global history. This approach offers new perspectives on the history of European expansion and the entanglement of European and indigenous societies in colonial contexts.
Laura Dierksmeier (Tübingen)
Local Creole Knowledge: José Antonio Alzate y Ramirez’s Defense of Medicinal Herbs Prohibited by the Inquisition in Eighteenth-Century Mexico
In 1772, José Antonio Alzate y Ramirez (1737-1799) risked his position as a priest by writing a newspaper article that publicly endorsed the use of an indigenous herb prohibited by the Inquisition. Alzate classified the herb pipilzitzintlis as cannabis, drawing on first-hand experimental evidence, second-hand local knowledge, and European medical encyclopedias to argue in favor of medicinal marijuana use. His viewpoints exemplify the overlapping spaces of science and religion in New Spain, and the qualified creole presentation of indigenous knowledge as potentially enlightened knowledge.
Fabian Fechner (Hagen)
Indigenous Knowledge as Local Knowledge? The Diverging Evaluation of Local Informants in the Exploration of Central Africa (1750-1850)
The Gabon Coast was a space practically unknown to the Europeans around 1750. By the 1850s, it had turned into one of the most contested ’blank spaces’. But how did blank spaces make it onto world maps? According to the common plot, enlightened mapmakers ‘invented’ blank spaces to delete speculative topographies. Later these blank spaces were filled again with ‘reliable’ data. However, in communication processes between cartographers, explorers, officials, and publishers, a general standard of ‘reliability’ of knowledge did not exist. This paper analyzes how the different actors who processed geographical knowledge differed in interpreting indigenous knowledge as common local knowledge.
Renate Dürr (Tübingen)