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Oration Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis – Thinking about knowledge in the early modern period

3 March 2017, 15:45
Aula VU University Amsterdam
“Werelden van Vernuft. Denken over Kennis in de Vroegmoderne Tijd”


History of Knowledge investigates how science and technology develop within broad cultural contexts. The roots of our modern knowledge society are in the early modern period. The scientific and industrial revolutions, and the Enlightenment lay the foundations of modern science and technology and our conceptions of knowledge. When tracing these developments to their roots, one enters fascinating worlds of ingenious inquirers and often peculiar ideas.  Huizinga Institute’s staff member Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis will give his inaugural lecture on the acceptance of his office as extraordinary professor of Early Modern History of Ideas, in particular History of Knowledge.

In early eighteenth-century Amsterdam the interest of citizens in arts and sciences was growing. A market developed for lectures with experimental presentations, publications on the latest discoveries, instruments to measure the weather, the body, and all. At the same time one looked for means to make such knowledge useful for new products and societal improvement.

In this world an instrument maker like Daniël Gabriël Fahrenheit (1686-1736) could flourish. He played a key role in the development of the thermometer: his instruments were the most accurate and reliable of the eighteenth century. In this way he lay a foundation for the culture of measurement. He also drew light from his barometers, thus feeding the ideas that light, heat, and electricity are chemical substances. History of Knowledge aims to understand how our modern conceptions of science evolved out of such mixtures of strange and familiar views.

The chair has been created by the Dr. C. Louise Thijssen-Schoute Stichting.