Organisation of Knowledge in Victorian Britain, University of Cambridge,
Cambridge, England, 17-18 May 2002.
The topic of the conference is important to readers of Imperium
in two ways: firstly it deals with an important period in the history
of the British Empire, and secondly, it covers a period in intellectual
history in which the disciplinary pursuit of knowledge became a prominent
feature in Europe and, through imperial influences, in other parts of
The conference is a timely enquiry into the British experience of evolving
disciplines in the Victorian period in academic and official discourses.
Through an examination of the processes involved in the making of the
disciplines one can relate in a more informed way to contemporary emphases
on interdisciplinary pursuit of knowledge and institutional (re)organisation
of the academy in different countries.
In recent years there has been a growing interest in mapping the historical
and intellectual roots of the tension between disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity,
as seen, for example, in the establishment of Centres of Intedisciplinary
Studies in some North American universities Duke, California and
others and (proposed) at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
In Britain, the The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at
the University of Edinburgh (http://www.ed.ac.uk/iash/index.html)
and the newly established (2001) Centre for Research in the Arts, Social
Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge (http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk)
which organised this conference, is currently concentrating on the theme
The Organisation of Knowledge.
Professor Martin Daunton of the History Faculty of Cambridge University,
the conference organiser, deserves credit for selecting panels to address
the complexities of knowledge production, dissemination and consumption
in one of the epochal periods of the most powerful imperia of the 19th
century. Specifically: Origins of the British Academy, Publishing
and disseminating knowledge, Classifications, Institutions,
Creating disciplines: the social sciences and mathematics,
Creating disciplines: the humanities, and Metropole
About seventy participants attended the Conference from Cambridge and
beyond. The international nature of the conference was evident not only
by the institutional affiliation of participants but also by the discussion
of international (especially of Europe, USA and the old Commonwealth)
dimensions of the topic. Papers were pre-circulated and this enhanced
the depth and quality of discussion.
While discussing a chronologically demarcated period in history it is
inevitable that some attention would be paid to continuities, discontinuities
and changes in ideas and institutions that contextualise the period in
focus. Thus, at the conference, the organisation of knowledge in the Victorian
period was contexualised within pre-and post-Victorian developments. The
papers largely concentrated on the birth and development of disciplinarity
and a rather rigid taxonomical approach to knowledge in officially recognised
and institutionally validated forms.
Although no particular paper at the conference focussed exclusively on
alternative forms of knowledge, instances of exclusions, silences, un/under-recognised
contributions located in regions such as Scotland, or the Empire, and
social categories of class and gender were mentioned especially during
panel discussions. Perhaps CRASSH could organise a follow-up conference
focussed on the non-official /un-organised knowledge of the Victorian
The proceedings of the conference are to be published in a book form.
The publication is likely to reflect the views of not only the paper presenters
but also of the general participants, as Professor Daunton used the concluding
discussion session explicitly to ascertain the views/comments of all the
participants for incorporation into the book.
Finally, in the age of online journals and electronic communication one
would hope that the organizers/publishers would make the contents available
in a post-Caxton format.