Information and Social Knowledge: From Gossip to the Internet
14th Annual Workshop of the Economic History Society Women’s Committee
Institute of Historical Research, London, –8 November 2003
This workshop brings together social and economic historians, historians of science and technology and social scientists to explore the various applications of the concept of information in historical studies and discuss the ways in which attention to people’s access to knowledge and the systems (formal and informal, human and mechanical) for its transmission can help us to understand social order and economic action.
We are reminded daily that we are experiencing an ‘information revolution’, that since the second half of the 20th century we have been living in an ‘information society’ and that in the 21st our children will have to find their place in a ‘knowledge society’. Accounts of this purported epochal shift in the social functions of information focus on the dialectic between a growing demand for specific knowledges and the development of uniquely powerful and dynamic technologies for generating, storing and communicating data. Historians have begun to test this proposition. They have questioned the uniqueness of our own experience in the light of evidence for earlier ‘information revolutions’. At the same time the understanding of information and knowledge as commodities, tools or social goods whose transmission is central to social production and reproduction, and the associated concepts of information networks, systems and regimes, have been adopted in historical studies whose objects range from material culture to imperial governance. The underlying questions of who gets to know what, and how, and how this affects the way life is lived, remain pressing ones for both economic theory and historical explanation.
The gender politics of information and knowledge constitute a common theme of this workshop. Topics include early-modern credit networks, nineteenth-century wealth transmission, women in the academic knowledge community, finding one’s way in the modern city, rumour and survival in World War II, information technologies and political participation in the 19th and 20th centuries, the social making of digital computing, the internet as a source of lay medical knowledge.
Speakers include: Alison Adam/Helen Richardson (Salford), Jon Agar (Manchester/London), David Green (London), Flis Henwood/Sally Wyatt/Angie Hart (Brighton), Claire Jones (Liverpool), Sandra Mols (Manchester), Adelheid von Saldern (Hannover), Judith Spicksley (Hull), Penny Summerfield (Manchester)
The workshop will begin with a roundtable discussion on the evening of 7 November, and conclude at 4.15 p.m. on 8 November.
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