Peter Burke follows up his magisterial Social History of Knowledge, picking up where the first volume left off around 1750 at the publication of the French Encyclopédie and following the story through to Wikipedia. Like the previous volume, it offers a social history (or a retrospective sociology of knowledge) in the sense that it focuses not on individuals but on groups, institutions, collective practices and general trends. The book is divided into 3 parts. The first argues that activities which appear to be timeless - gathering knowledge, analysing, disseminating and employing it - are in fact time-bound and take different forms in different periods and places. The second part tries to counter the tendency to write a triumphalist history of the 'growth' of knowledge by discussing losses of knowledge and the price of specialization. The third part offers geographical, sociological and chronological overviews, contrasting the experience of centres and peripheries and arguing that each of the main trends of the period - professionalization, secularization, nationalization, democratization, etc, coexisted and interacted with its opposite. As ever, Peter Burke presents a breath-taking range of scholarship in prose of exemplary clarity and accessibility. This highly anticipated second volume will be essential reading across the humanities and social sciences.
In this book Peter Burke adopts a socio-cultural approach to examine the changes in the organization of knowledge in Europe from the invention of printing to the publication of the French Encyclopédie. 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 century.