Global Information History Workshop

Co-organised by Yuval Givon (Harvard), Anja-Silvia Goeing (Harvard) and Philippe Bernhard Schmid (Basel). Co-hosted by the University of Basel, Harvard University, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the University of Zurich.

Generously supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), grant no. 215254, project title: SwissBritNet: Swiss-British Cultural Exchange and Knowledge Networks 1600–1780.


Complex flows of information define the twenty-first century as much as the early modern and the modern periods of history. Science, education, trades, crafts and other sites of the production of knowledge do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of global networks, systems and ecologies, which shape their internal workings and their exchanges with other actors, regulated by intricate mechanisms of feedback. These entanglements have been theorised by information and systems theory, actor-network theory and scientific approaches to chaos and complexity. Information is not only transmitted by sender and receiver, but can also be generated in open systems. This has far-reaching implications for the study of epistemic practices in the history of information.

This workshop engages with historical knowledge systems broadly conceived. It focuses on the web of information channelled through networks, institutions, environments and transnational spaces from the early modern to the modern age, c. 1400–1900. Three areas which we especially endorse are the mediation of epistemic cultures by go-betweens in local networks; institutions as networks of learning, which interact with other organisations; and the movement of information through long-distance routes of communication between Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. We are interested in Jesuit networks as much as in early modern universities, intelligencers of the Royal Society and the institutional networks of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Furthermore, colonial contexts played important roles in global knowledge networks from the fifteenth century onwards, creating new power hierarchies in the Atlantic world, including the appropriation, misuse and theft of resources. Historical case studies on these or similar topics are thus as welcome as are theoretical contributions on information history.

The workshop is organised as a peer seminar and meets once a month. We discuss readings and short work-in-progress papers. We also organise guest lectures. The group meets on Zoom. For more information or if you are interested to join, please email

Programme Spring 2024:

: Ages of Information

Work-in-progress paper: Devin Fitzgerald (Yale) Big History in Octavo: Periodizing Global History through Codex Technologies Readings Information theory and history (tba)

: Global & Local Information

Work-in-progress paper: Miriam Campopiano (Venice) Maps, Atlases, and Gazettes: Global Knowledge and Local Representations of North America in Early Eighteenth-Century Italy Readings Global and local history (tba)

: Travel & Borders

Work-in-progress paper: Sabrina Rospert (Basel) Rebellion on the Frontier. Habsburg Renegade Subjects and their Mobility within the Ottoman Border Zone (1660s-1670s) Readings Borders and mobility (tba)

: Information Networks & Institutions

Input paper: Benjamin Steiner (Munich) Governance Readings Information, networks and institutions (tba)

: Workshop on Agents & Messengers (tba)

Each Zoom session takes place Eastern Time / Central European Time. Zoom links and the readings for each session will be circulated in advance.