Information history: How, what, where and why?

The aim of this seminar is to gather researchers from different communities with an interest in the history of information in order to explore and further the discussion of information as a concept that designates a particular way of studying history. The hope is to continue and facilitate academic contact and collaboration, for instance in the shape of recurring seminars on different also empirical aspects of information history.

The present seminar focuses on the why: why are histories of information as topical as ever? The seminar positions itself within the broader historical community and investigates what information offers as a perspective on history and as a phenomenon in history. What are the main research questions offered by information in history? What possible new histories can we write and how do they differ from other histories (e.g. of bureaucracy, the history of knowledge, or intellectual history)?

Yet, it is also important not to neglect the how of information history: how do we do information history? Do we understand information differently defined by the different historical contexts we study and perhaps more prominently defined by our affiliations to different research traditions?

A further intriguing position regards the where of information history. The most recent publications about information history originate in American universities but span globally. Yet it is tempting to ask: What happens outside America? Is the European agenda defined by the history of knowledge?

At the seminar, invited speakers present their understanding of information history in shorter position statements that encourage debate amongst the participants. Summing up the seminar would point at how we can continue the discussions about histories of information.


15:00 Laura Skouvig Welcome and presentation of programme and moderator, Sille Obelitz Søe
15:10 Toni Weller The Information Turn
15:25 Anja-Silvia Goeing From the making of knowledge to the transmission of information: A changing field in history?
15:40 Break
15:50 Anatoly Detwyler The Difference that Makes a Difference: Translation and 'Information' in Modern China
16:05 James Cortada How to Study Information Ecosystems
16:20 Break
16:30 Bonnie Mak Information History without the Information or the History. A Morphological Approach
16:45 Alistair Black When the history of information becomes the history of everything: the history of state information policy in Britain before the computer
17:00 Break
17:10 Laura Skouvig Whys, wheres and hows of a history of information (+ summing up on questions)
17:25 Discussion
17:45 Future plans


  • Dr. Toni Weller is Visiting Research Fellow in History (De Montfort University, UK)
  • Anja-Silvia Goeing is Professorin, Universität Zürich, Associate in History & Program Coordinator (Harvard University)
  • Anatoly Detwyler is Assistant Professor of Modern Chinese Literature (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  • James W. Cortada is Senior Research Fellow at Charles Babbage Institute (University of Minnesota - Twin Cities)
  • Bonnie Mak is associate professor of Information Sciences (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
  • Alistair Black, Professor Emeritus, School of Information Sciences (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
  • Laura Skouvig is Associate Professor of Information History (University of Copenhagen)

Moderator: Sille Obelitz Søe, Assistant Professor (University of Copenhagen)

Organizer: Laura Skouvig, Associate Professor (University of Copenhagen)

Registration: Email Laura Skouvig no later than 12 May and you will receive an email with the Zoom link