»Collecting, Ordering, Knowing. Jewish and Other Worlds of Knowledge Preservation«

Annual Conference of the Dubnow Institute

The 2007 Annual Conference of the Simon Dubnow Institute will explore historical and contemporary forms of collections and orderings of knowledge. It seeks to provide a dynamic interactive forum for discussing Jewish history and culture, here investigated through the focusing prism of a fundamental topic in cultural history. The aim, working through a well-grounded comparative perspective, is to find new approaches to various forms and functions of collections, and investigate questions of their presentation and representation. In this way, it also seeks to shed light on how stores of knowledge in Jewish and general discourses were (and are) safeguarded and communicated.

Such a angle of inquiry intends to provide a basis for exchanging ideas on the manifold historical, cultural and social meanings of Jewish and general collections, over a temporal space extending from the early modern period down to modernity. Of central interest here are both collections in the narrower thematic sense as well as archives and libraries as sites of preservation, and museums and publishing houses as places for presentation and dissemination. A core complex of questions involve the theoretical implications and practical configurations of procedures of preparing, classifying, systematizing and presentation. From this vantage, the conference also looks at the transformation and canonization of knowledge into solid stores that can be passed on over time. Since these processes were (and are) significantly shaped by the development of the media in the process of Tradierung, i. e. of passing on and handing down knowledge (such as book publication, the spread of newspapers and periodicals in the »mass media saddle period« between 1870 and 1930 and current possibilities of digitalization), centrally salient here are also questions regarding the formation of scientific, artistic and political networks, and the resulting options that may accrue for the transfer of communicable knowledge in Jewish and other societies.

The presentations oriented to epistemics will address questions in the formation of theory that deal more generally with structures of meaning and signification as manifested in archives, collections and processed stores of knowledge. What were and are the contents of collections? What were the guiding principles and aims for creating archives? Why do such collections retain such a great significance for cultural memory? Here overarching approaches and theses can be presented, pertaining for example to the relations of knowledge to text, knowledge and image, and the processes involved in the institutionalization and canonization of stores of knowledge. Another key aspect here is the fundamental understanding of »order,«  entropy, chaos and system, a complex which underpins every collection.

In other conference presentations more oriented to cultural history, the development of Jewish and general encyclopedias and collective works and compendia will be discussed. The focus here will be not only on the texts or their forms and genres, but also, through an integrated perspective, on the social and cultural contexts of the developments in these aggregates of knowledge. In addition to looking at the large-scale encyclopedia projects oriented to the paradigm of the nation, a special concern of the conference is to examine the smaller regional or trans-national initiatives. Here we have a welcome possibility to systematize and compare historically overarching common features and differences in the encyclopedic representation of knowledge. Temporal emphasis will be on encyclopedias from the earlier modern era down to modernity, though the history of encyclopedias since Classical Antiquity will also be looked at by some presenters, to the extent that various eras reveal shared overarching forms and structures of knowledge.

Fundamental for the Annual Conference theme is likewise the exploration of a primary question: who systematizes knowledge in collections, for what reasons? Of interest here are art collections and “treasure chambers” of knowledge, along with the cultural practice of collecting, and similar forms geared to preserving knowledge in institutions and texts. Other important related aspects the conference will investigate are the transformation of originally sacred, traditional collections into new forms adapted to the demands of modernity (such as museums); such forms which may at first glance appear profane. Likewise important for the conference theme are the adapting of Jewish collection activity to general collection activity, and the participation of Jewish collectors in such general collections, especially during the bourgeois period; the manifestations of Jewish patronage and foundations and their connections to institutions of welfare, as well as the differing aspects of the presentation and staging of these collections in public space. 

9th to 10th July 2007
Dubnow Institute

in Cooperation with Prof. Dr. Ulrich Johannes Schneider, Director, University Library, University of Leipzig