Co-convenors: Guy Burak (New York University), Dagmar Riedel (Columbia University), Martina Siebert (Berlin State Library – East Asia Department / Independent scholar)
The explorative workshop All You Can Do with Catalogs conceptualized by Paola Molino, Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, was one of the winners of our annual competition for transregional research ideas. Together with Guy Burak, Dagmar Riedel and Martina Siebert, Paola Molino explored shifts in the classification of knowledge in the pre-modern world, by examining the evolution of finding aids, such as catalogs, indexes, card files, and bibliographies, in a global perspective. The workshop's seminal idea arose from the convenor's shared interest in the history of manuscript cultures, libraries, and archives in Eurasia in the early modern era, comprising the Habsburg and the Ottoman empires, as well as large powerful states in Iran, the Indian Subcontinent, and China. Its chronological framework is broadly defined as the period between 1400 and 1800, during which the accumulation and systematization of knowledge resulted mainly from tension between local, political, and scholarly agendas vis-à-vis the limitations of long-distance communication across Eurasia. As a result, the pursuit of a “connected history” of bibliographies followed from the observation that synchronic epistemologies and similar organizational systems occurred within different political and technological configurations. How cross-cultural relations shaped information management strategies was one of the concerns underpinning the workshop.
It was one of the workshop's aims to re-focus current research on the organization and the access to knowledge by combining local with global approaches. It examined what triggered the interest in information management – ranging from the emergence of new literary genres to the technological innovation (e.g., letterpress printing) – in different societies: imperial expansionism, political crisis, or intercultural contacts? How was the access to knowledge organized and who was the intended audience of new finding aids in different societies? Did theories and practices of knowledge classification only reflect concrete local stimuli and restrictions, or were these connected across different societies? Was there a moment of conjunction, in which a particular form of knowledge organization was shared across Eurasia?
At the same time, the workshop explored how knowledge was produced and disseminated in different societies by paying close attention to the interconnection between intellectual history and material culture. How were finding aids organized – e.g., lists, indexes, diagrams, epitomes, bibliographical dictionaries – and disseminated – e.g., manuscript, printed book, article in a periodical? What was the relationship between the buildings which housed books – e.g., private library, state archive, private institutional library – and the finding aids through which they could be accessed – e.g., codex, scroll, roll, card file? Did their respective organizational structures reflect each other? How did scholarly practices, such as note-taking, excerpting, and cut-paste, impact the compilation of catalogs and bibliographies?
The workshop's intended participants were scholars and librarians whose research concerns the written transmission of knowledge and the history of science and who were interested in new transnational and global approaches in research on the history of information management.