Social History of Knowledge: From Gutenberg to Diderot
December 2000, Polity
The book opens with an assessment of different sociologies of
knowledge from Mannheim to Foucault and beyond, and goes on to
discuss intellectuals as a social group and the social institutions
(especially universities and academies) which encouraged or
discouraged intellectual innovation. Then, in a series of separate
chapters, Burke explores the geography, anthropology, politics and
economics of knowledge, focusing on the role of cities, academies,
states and markets in the process of gathering, classifying,
spreading and sometimes concealing information. The final chapters
deal with knowledge from the point of view of the individual
reader, listener, viewer or consumer, including the problem of the
reliability of knowledge discussed so vigorously in the seventeenth
One of the most original features of this book is its discussion
of knowledges in the plural. It centres on printed knowledge,
especially academic knowledge, but it treats the history of the
knowledge 'explosion' which followed the invention of printing and
the discovery of the world beyond Europe as a process of exchange
or negotiation between different knowledges, such as male and
female, theoretical and practical, high-status and low-status, and
European and non-European.
Although written primarily as a contribution to social or socio-cultural history, this book will also be of interest to historians of science, sociologists, anthropologists, geographers and others in another age of information explosion.
Preface and Acknowledgements.
1. Sociologies and Histories of Knowledge: an Introduction.
2. Professing Knowledge: the European Clerisy.
3. Establishing Knowledge: Institutions Old and New.
4. Locating Knowledge: Centres and Peripheries.
Classifying Knowledge: Curricula, Libraries and Encyclopaedias.
6. Controlling Knowledge: Churches and States.
7. Selling Knowledge: the Market and the Press.
8. Acquiring Knowledge: The Reader's Share.
9. Trusting and Distrusting Knowledge; a Coda.
Peter Burke is Professor of Cultural History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
'Peter Burke is an exceptional historian: a polyglot, at home in
a dozen languages; an intellectual, who is well versed in
theoretical developments adjacent to history; a superb expositor,
with the capacity to distil his findings in unpretentious and
limpidly accessible prose; and an author of unflagging vitality,
whose prolific studies in the cultural history of early modern
Europe and in modern historiography constitute a formidable
oeuvre ... He has succeeded in producing a balanced,
judicious and highly stimulating work of synthesis. His book will
be an indispensable starting point for years to come.' Keith
Thomas, History Today
'Burke has made a significant contribution to cultural history ... [He] shows how knowledge was a form of exchange and how it became what we would recognize it as today. Burke's achievement in A Social History of Knowledge is to remind us that people in the past did not view knowledge in the same way as we do today.' History