INTO THE UNKNOWN: CLUES, HINTS, AND PROJECTS IN THE HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE

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Abstract

This essay argues for integrating the history of ignorance into the history of knowledge. Through a case study of the (failed) project of colonial Virginian sericulture in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it explores the entanglement of various forms of knowledge and ignorance. These comprise forms of knowledge that have been presented as certain, such as clues and rules, and empirical, such as observations and questionnaires. They also include forms highlighting probabilism and risk-benefit analyses, such as projects, and forms that made a virtue of uncertainty, such as hints. By exploring the cultural meanings and social functions of these forms of knowledge, this essay illustrates their coproduction with sociopolitical ideals, norms, and biases. The history of unspecified ignorance—including knowledge suppressed due to racism, misogyny, and other social biases—intersects with the history of these agnotological and epistemological tools. Such intersections collectively make up the history of knowledge.

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Keller, V. (2020). INTO THE UNKNOWN: CLUES, HINTS, AND PROJECTS IN THE HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE. History and Theory, 59(4), 86–110. https://doi.org/10.1111/hith.12183

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