Knowledge Spaces

by EGO-Redaktion last modified 2022-02-14T11:17:35+02:00

Anatomical theatre

The anatomical theatre was a central medical institution in the early modern period. Designed and realized as sites of medical teaching, its manifestations were established and run by universities, physicians' corporations and surgeons' guilds with the support of municipal and state authorities. The aim was to demonstrate the structure of the human body by means of dissections in order to disseminate basic medical knowledge, but also to provide proof of divine creation, to highlight the temporary nature of human life, and finally to promote the self-knowledge of the spectator. Providing a basic platform for illustrative teaching, the anatomical theatre also provided an enduring stimulus for the collection of medical specimens and for medical research.

Botanical Garden

Botanical gardens represent both an artificial and natural space for the directed interaction of man with nature. They enable unique encounters not only with plants, but also with botanical knowledge. Indeed, it is the explicit reference to knowledge that has distinguished the botanical garden from other garden forms from the beginning of the 16th century. Living and dried plant collections have been used to produce botanical knowledge. Furthermore, a botanical garden constitutes a place of learning and education based on "contemplation". Over the course of four centuries, research, study, communication, design, and the acquisition of botanical knowledge have undergone transformation in different contexts: The functions of botanical gardens changing as a result. The Garden of Eden and Noah's Ark served as first symbolic references. Starting as a mere inspiration, they gained new influence in the public sphere as archetypes from the 18th century. Botanical institutions – such as the famous garden directed by botanist Carl von Linné (1707–1778) in Uppsala – derived their global relevance from the utopian ideal of achieving an overall picture of the plant world. Since the last century, most botanical gardens have been dedicated to the conservation of endangered plant species. Open to the public worldwide and currently represented in more than 1,400 locations, the botanical garden as known today has proven to be a flourishing, multi-functional knowledge and research center.

Chambers of Art

As collection rooms based on a universalist approach, the chambers of art and wonders (Wunderkammern) were characteristic of the pre-modern era. In them, artefacts and natural objects were presented as an image of the macrocosm, as a new earthly order in miniature. They must also be viewed as a phenomenon of perception, as their almost endemic spread on the European continent – starting in Italy and becoming especially common in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation – was connected with a new consciousness of space. In particular, the discovery of central perspective during the Renaissance played a central role in the emergence of chambers of wonders. The most significant and most valuable collections were accumulated by and in princely residences and at least up to the mid-17th century were primarily for prestige purposes. In contrast to these, smaller chambers of wonders were established by patrician researchers and scholars, who can perhaps be viewed as pioneers of this collection phenomenon. Additionally, increasingly global trade, the rebirth of classical antiquity, an increasingly profane perspective on nature, and an increasing interest in genealogical and cultural roots played a particularly important role in the emergence of chambers of wonders. These universal collections flourished from after 1500 to about the end of the 18th century. The specialist collections of present-day museums, on the other hand, emerged largely independently of holistic models of the world as presented in the chambers of wonders.


The laboratory is an exemplary site of modernity. In it, human and machine, organisms and mechanisms, body and technology combine and contrast with one another in order to produce new scientific facts. However, the beginnings of the laboratory are to be found in the early modern period. In particular, the workshops of alchemists and apothecaries were referred to as laboratories from the 17th century onwards. In the context of the university reforms of the 19th century, laboratories for chemistry, physics and biology increasingly became genuine sites of research. In the process, the distinct laboratory cultures in the various countries enriched each other, but also competed with one another, as the example of Franco-German relations shows. The laboratory and its iconography continue to define our understanding of scientific practice up to the present. At the same time, the laboratory is undergoing a process of dissolution and dispersal, as demonstrated by international macro-projects such as the Human Genome Initiative or the gigantic particle accelerators of current physics research. The laboratory has created history largely as an enclosed space. However, its future appears to be open.

Popularisation of Science

In recent decades historians and sociologists of science have significantly revised their views on how science relates to popular culture. They have replaced the model in which scientific knowledge is disseminated to a passive audience with one in which there is constant two-way interaction between the scientific community and the public. For much of the time since the emergence of modern science in the seventeenth century those who investigated nature operated in an environment where relating their work to patrons and supporters influenced how that work was done. The image of a professional scientific community remaining aloof from the public and relying on science writers and journalists to disseminate a simplified report of their research findings could not be applied to these early periods and was never truly valid even for the late twentieth century. This article outlines the new interpretation of the relationship between science and the public and surveys changes in how the interaction worked from the seventeenth century to the present. Initially there was no professionalized scientific community and those who studied nature had to arouse the interest of aristocratic patrons and eventually larger groups who could provide financial support. In the mid-nineteenth century it was still taken for granted that scientists were public intellectuals who engaged in debates about the wider implications of their work. Major theoretical initiatives were launched in books that could be read by the educated layperson. Even when a professionalized scientific community emerged at the end of the nineteenth century, a significant proportion of scientists still saw it as their duty to encourage support for their work by writing educational material for non-specialist readers. Although many abandoned this responsibility temporarily in the later twentieth century, recent developments have again shown the scientific community that it is necessary to engage with public concerns about the impact of applied science.


The term "pseudoscience" is used to imply that a person or group who is using the term "science" to describe their activities, thereby laying claim to the associated societal status, is not entitled to do so. The prefix "pseudo-" is derived from the Greek word ψεύδειν, meaning "to cheat, lie or deceive". Thus, the accusation of pseudoscience suggests the fraudulent appropriation of the status of science. The term primarily implies a value judgement. It is viewed as being of little descriptive or analytical value in present-day discussions of the theory of science. While attempts to establish a normative definition of the concept seem doomed to failure, an investigation of historical usage of the term is interesting from a conceptual historical perspective. A description of the varying theoretical concepts and empirical usages of the term pseudoscience over longer time periods as well as in intercultural and transnational comparisons of scientific systems also describes ex negativo the historical and cultural development of concepts of scientific validity.


From the 16th century onward, women cultivated in salons a specific form of conversational conviviality and also registered their participation in the res publica litteraria in a framework defined by the ideal of the honnête femme. In addition to the international Francophone salon tradition, native-language salons developed with modified structures in some cases. These salons were often affiliated with each other, but also with literary and musical circles as well as cultural institutions (academies, theatres, museums etc.). Up to the upheavals of the early-20th century, the salons were an expression and a medium of a European conversational and personality culture and they contributed to the emancipation of women.

University Collections

European universities house a variety of collections that played, and continue to play, an important role in the development of academic traditions, in the founding and differentiation of individual disciplines, and in the concrete practice of research and teaching. For a long time historians of science have neglected these collections, but in recent years a growing concern with the material dimensions of knowledge cultures (Wissenskulturen) has awakened a greater interest. Yet although increased efforts are being made to identify them, classify their contents and groups of objects, analyse their functions and usages, and to explore the history of individual objects and collections, fundamental research into the full European dimension of collections remains a desideratum. With this background in mind, this article attempts to provide a first historical survey and typology of European collections.

World's Fairs

As a communication medium, the world's fairs of the 19th century were the contemporary equivalent of the present-day world wide web. Given their enormous attendance figures, which far exceeded the reach of all other media, the historical significance of international exhibitions can hardly be overstated. From the opening of the "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations" in London in May 1851 onward, large expositions were held periodically in almost all major cities. The aim was to present to an international audience a miniature version of the world that was as true to scale as possible, present only for a limited time at a clearly defined site within the ever-changing host city. This article gives an overview of the historical development of this 19th century mass- and meta-medium, describes its most significant forms, functions and effects, and discusses the extent to which world's fairs in Europe have decreased in impact since the beginning of the 20th century.