Call for ideas: conference Forgotten Knowledge

For a joint conference of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Huygens ING, Vossius Center and the Descartes Centre on 'Forgotten Knowledge', there is an open call for ideas.


The topic 'forgotten knowledge' is certainly suggestive, and allows for many different approaches; here are some suggestions that result from discussions that already took place after the meeting on which the plan for this conference was made:


  • 'Forgotten knowledge as an actor' category (Prof. Sven Dupré mentioned that in the early modern period, you find entire lists of items of forgotten knowledge).
  • Forgotten knowledge frequently comes up in relation to particular historical formations: traditions of mysticism (for instance as they become revived around 1800), esoteric traditions, the traditions of a 'prisca theologia' or 'priscaphilosophia'. What can be learned from investigating such case studies? (It is also tempting to think about the great role that forgotten knowledge has come to play in popular science.)
  • Forgotten knowledge always goes coupled with strategies for reviving this kind of knowledge – how is this done? Vice versa: how do we need to describe the processes that lead to this knowledge becoming suppressed, forgotten, eliminated?
  • The epistemology of forgotten knowledge – the term may sound contradictory in itself (how should we deal with knowledge that we do not actively possess?). So how should we deal, for instance from the point of view of epistemology, with this concept?
  • What kind of taxonomy of forgotten knowledge can we come up with – what is the role of ‘tacit knowledge’ here; of knowledge that becomes explicitly restricted, for whatsoever reasons.
  • How does forgetting knowledge relate to the progress of science?


One of the starting-points for the colleagues in Berlin is the question of knowledge that is available in parts of the world, but not in others (that is part of what Dagmar Schaefer from Berlin is investigating).

Take the above remarks as first – very first and completely unstructured – associations. We are at liberty to come up with suggestions for concrete papers, or for research topics, for the joint conference on forgotten knowledge. Please feel invited to go creative, and send your suggestions to Prof. Paul Ziche ( or Ariane den Daas ( Please do so before the end of March – we’ll then organize a meeting to further discuss these ideas. The Descartes Centre is looking forward to the exchange on these matters! And if anyone feels the vocation to take up the coordination of ideas for this conference, please contact Paul Ziche. At this moment, he is merely acting as the mediator between the meeting of the various institutes, and the members of the Descartes Centre.