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In partnership with the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry at the 
Chemical Heritage Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania Libraries is 
pleased to announce:

The Science of Information, 1870-1945: The Universalization of Knowledge in a 
Utopian Age

February 23-25, 2017

Between about 1870 and 1945, for visionaries and planners around the world, 
projects for assembling universal knowledge and projects for effecting a 
universal political order went hand-in-hand. This symposium will investigate 
the development of intertwining utopianisms in internationalist politics and in 
the science of information during this period. This span of years stretches 
from the onset of modern war, in America and Western Europe, to its most 
horrific climax in World War II. It is also the period during which global 
transportation and communications systems were constructed, the modern global 
economy was knit together, and both scientific and humanistic scholarship 
became a professional and global enterprise. Such developments made the 
collection and sharing of information and the establishment of accord among 
nation-states especially urgent, the stuff of utopian speculation, pacifist 
dreams, and, sometimes, pragmatic nightmares. A striking measure of this 
urgency was the formation in 1922 of the League of Nations’ International 
Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, the primary aim of which was to address 
and resolve issues at the intersection of information and diplomacy.

This period is also approximately the lifespan of one of the foremost of these 
dreamers: the pioneering information scientist Paul Otlet. Otlet, along with 
his partner, the Belgian statesman and the 1913 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 
Henri La Fontaine, championed internationalist ideals in their campaign to 
promote democratic access to universal knowledge. In light of the emergence of 
contemporary forms of information utopianism centered on the internet, big 
data, and the political possibilities of social media and other information 
technologies, Otlet in particular has become a figure of much interest among 
both historians of science and historians of libraries and information 
management. A principal goal of this conference is to bring these communities 
together to work towards a collective understanding of the hodgepodge of 
familiar and strange utopian projects that characterized this eventful 
seventy-five years. How did internationalist thought shape how information was 
processed and disseminated? Why did some political and information-sharing 
projects succeed and others founder? Did political and information universalism 
always go hand-in-hand? Could political universalism instead be paired with 
skepticism about information-gathering, or information universalism with 
nationalism? In answering these questions, this conference will shed new light 
on a pivotal aspect of the making of the modern world and generate valuable 
perspectives to inform conversations about political and information 
universalism today.

Speakers include:

  *   Alistair Black, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  *   Rachel Sagner Buurma, Swarthmore College
  *   Alex Csiszar, Harvard University
  *   Teresa Davis, Princeton University
  *   Robert Fox, University of Oxford
  *   Eva Hemmungs Wirten, Linköping University
  *   Evan Hepler-Smith, Harvard University
  *   Robert Kargon, The Johns Hopkins University
  *   Peter Lor, University of Pretoria
  *   Kathy Peiss, University of Pennsylvania
  *   Lynn Ransom, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
  *   W. Boyd Rayward, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  *   Geert Somsen, Maastricht University
  *   Steven Witt, Center for Global Studies, University of Illinois at 
  *   Nader Vosougghian, New York Institute of Technology

For more information and to register, go to: 


Lynn Ransom, Ph.D.

Curator of Programs, Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies


Project Director, The New Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts


Managing Editor, Manuscript Studies: A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for 
Manuscript Studies


The University of Pennsylvania Libraries

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Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206


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