Sciences between Tradition and Innovation – Historical Perspectives

Wissenschaften zwischen Tradition und Innovation – Historische Perspektiven


The notions of tradition and innovation articulated by cultural historiography have in recent decades been presented as central categories in popular and highly stratified collective and cultural memory concepts. Traditio, a noun derivable from the Roman law of inheritance, including its verbal form tradere, originally meant the succession and conveyance of rights and obligations, authority and power, land and property from generation to generation. However, it was the first centuries of Christianity that saw the gradual transition of the above notion into the meaning of oral conveyance, reception of knowledge and instruction encompassing the bequething of the specific elements of material culture, such as goods, tools, equipments, buildings, sources of power, including the deliverance of practical knowledge, skills, competencies and the forms of action and progression. Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary published in 1755 defined the word tradition as the practice of conveying stories and relations from generation to generation orally. As regards the German etimology of Tradition, Grimm’s Dictionary suggests that this notion had been used as a synonym for the word Überlieferung (deliverance) in accordance with its theological meaning from the sixteenth century on and it implied the oral conveyance of acquired knowledge. The notion of written tradition delivering historically stratified teachings both orally and in writing seems to have gained momentum in the mid-eighteenth century. 

At the same time, there existed several variants for the notion of innovation and the positive and occasionally negative connotations of innovation were inevitably subject to changing times. For this reason, the notion of imitation as an adaptive strategy, ranging from the novel combination of existing things through the discovery of other things to represent superior quality to the notion of inventing non-existent things with the help of the creative thinking (invention) of the human intellect, tend to appear at various levels.

The four year research project entitled The Patterns of the Circulation of Scientific Knowledge in Hungary, 1770-1830 was launched under the auspices of the National Research, Development and Innovation Office of Hungary at the Institute of History, Loránd Eötvös University, in October 2016 focusing on the realignement of seven distinctive fields of disciplines in Hungary, such as philosophy, state sciences/statistics, history, aesthetics/classical philology, medicine, ethnology/anthropology, and agronomics as part of economics in the above period. According to our preliminary researches, this structural change can be conveyed through the terms of tradition/innovation, thereby offering an applicable perspective for the interpretation of the complex processes of the production of scientific knowledge as well as its reception along the lines of specific socio-cultural practices within the framework of a science history model. For this reason, we intend to explore and analyse the restructuring of the prevalent system of disciplines, the evolvement of their aspects, notions, terminology, interpretations and writing modes, practices and self-reflections, that is, their interrelationships between the old and new, the practical and theoretical elements of knowledge, including their integration into implicit and explicit actions, social relations. 

By doing so, we would like to shed some light on the following key issues:

  • The identification of foreign and Hungarian epistemic scenes, medial as well as material instruments, actors concerning the circulation of knowledge
  • The description of processes determined by the standardisation, institutionalisation, bureaucratisation and secularization efforts of Vienna, or other German and English scientific centres, exerting their influences on the circulation of scientific knowledge as well as on the transfomation of knowledge transfers with special regard to their role of filtering and disseminating ideas
  • The identification of persons and strategies regarding the systematisation of knowledge accumulated in different scenes in Hungary, including its authorisation, validation, storing and its communication to the evolving scientific and non-scientific public
  • The identification of interrelationships between the cultural representations of Hungary’s ethnic, denominational, linguistic diversity and scientific discourses influenced by the contemporary circulation of knowledge

In addition to the presentation of the hitherto achieved results of the above project, the pricipal aim of the anticipated workshop is to provide a common forum for science historians of various Central European countries with a view to discussing the viability of applying tradition/innovation concepts in the historiography of sciences, including their limitations, the regional as well as local patterns and specific features of the complex processes of the circulation of scientific knowledge in Central Europe.

In order to create a balanced and focused set of themes for the planned workshop we suggest you take into consideration the following topics:

  • The rethoric of tradition/innovation
  • The structures of tradition/innovation
  • The institutions of tradition/innovation
  • The practices of tradition/innovation
  • The personal aspects of tradition/innovation

The participating scholars are requested to deliver their talks along the lines of the above set of topics either by choosing an individual item, or by combining two or more of them according to the presenter’s own interest and research activities, focusing on theoretical or methodological aspects of specific fields of disciplines, cases, genres, contemporary scholarly careers, etc.



Date: 28–29 May 2019

Venue: Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Humanities

Working languages: English/German

Duration of talks: 20 mins