© 2017

Aesthetics of Universal Knowledge

  • Simon Schaffer
  • John Tresch
  • Pasquale Gagliardi
  • Offers a very interdisciplinary approach, bringing together philosophers, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, technical experts, and artists.

  • Includes illustrative visuals.

  • Confronts central questions of today’s global condition: What are the technologies, myths, and aesthetic styles for depicting and realizing knowledge of the universe and universal knowledge.


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xxi
  2. Pasquale Gagliardi
    Pages 1-9
  3. Simon Schaffer
    Pages 11-28
  4. Visions: How Aesthetics and Museology Affect the Ways in Which Worlds can be Shown and Known

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 29-29
    2. Adam Lowe, Jerry Brotton
      Pages 31-51
    3. Pierre Chabard
      Pages 53-76
    4. Cheryce von Xylander
      Pages 77-113
  5. Worlds: How the Performance of Cosmologies can Change the Way the Moral History of the World is Told and Understood

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 135-135
    2. John Tresch
      Pages 137-168
    3. Bruno Latour
      Pages 169-201
    4. David Turnbull
      Pages 203-231
  6. Economies: How Different Models of Knowledge and Their Contents Matter to Politics and Society

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 233-233
    2. Steve Crossan
      Pages 235-247
    3. Deirdre N. McCloskey
      Pages 249-261
    4. Richard Powers
      Pages 263-271

About this book


Born out of a major international dialogue held at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice, Italy, this collection of essays presents innovative and provocative arguments about the claims of universal knowledge schemes and the different aesthetic and material forms in which such claims have been made and executed. Contributors take a close look at everything from religious pilgrimages, museums, and maps of the world, to search engines and automated GPS.

Current obsessions in information technology, communications theory, and digital culture often concern the value and possibility of a grand accumulation of universally accessible forms of knowledge: total libraries, open data bases, ubiquitous computing, and ‘smart’ technologies. These obsessions have important social and philosophical origins, and they raise profound questions about the very nature of knowledge and its organization. This volume’s contributors draw on the histories of maps and of encyclopedias, worldviews and visionary collections, to make sense of the crucial relation between the way the world is known and how it might be displayed and transformed. 


art universal knowledge dark matter google architecture epistemology museology anthropology of science digital culture design aesthetics architectural history

Editors and affiliations

  • Simon Schaffer
    • 1
  • John Tresch
    • 2
  • Pasquale Gagliardi
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of History & Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.Department of History & Sociology of ScienceUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Secretary GeneralFondazione Giorgio CiniVeneziaItaly

About the editors

Simon Schaffer is Professor of History of Science at the University of Cambridge, UK. He is the author of La fabrique des sciences modernes and the coeditor of The Material Cultures of Enlightenment Arts and Sciences.

John Tresch is Associate Professor of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, USA. He is the author of The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon, among other works.

Pasquale Gagliardi, former Professor of Sociology of Organizations at the Catholic University of Milan, Italy, is now Secretary General of the Giorgio Cini Foundation in Venice, Italy. He is the author of Symbols & Artifacts. Views of the Corporate Landscape and Le imprese come culture, among other books.

Bibliographic information