- Transnational Cultures of Expertise: Circulating State-Related Knowledge in the 18th and 19th Centuries ed. by Lothar Schilling and Jacob Vogel
Edited by Lothar Schilling and Jacob Vogel. Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2019. Pp. 2001.
In recent decades, historians have reopened the classical field of the rise of the modern state. The eighteenth century was a watershed, especially the latter decades (Sattelzeit), when the early modern period gave way to modern times—and a new state apparatus. John Brewer's pioneering work, The Sinews of Power (Routledge, 1989), drew many followers. Recently, scholars have perceived a more inclusive idea of cameralism, reaching well beyond Central Europe and Scandinavia. Cameralism in Practice (Boydell & Brewer, 2017), a collection edited by Marten Seppel and Keith Tribe indicates that scholars have switched to a more practice-oriented approach. Knowledge and expertise are a part of this, and researchers like Pamela Smith (The Business of Alchemy, 1994), Pamela Long (Artisan/Practitioners and the Rise of the New Sciences, 1400–1600, 2011), have amalgamated science, cameralism, and state building in the creation of modern society.
The editors of Transnational Cultures of Expertise place their volume at the center of this intellectual crossroad. Their aim is to "examine the expertise cultures of the Sattelzeit in their diversity and specificity." In stressing the need for new empirical research and a better understanding of the type of knowledge required to develop modern states, they point out the importance of how that knowledge was gathered and spread. They take a stand against more traditional research with its top-down approach, preferring an open-ended agenda that creates and disseminates state-related knowledge as "a complex negotiation process" (p. 7). The mix of knowledge and state building should be investigated around concepts like "circulation," "practice," and "academization."
The book's ten chapters are divided into three themes: "Defining the fields of the state," "Circulating state-related knowledge," and "Negotiating scales and spaces of the state." The geographical span is comparatively wide. Apart from almost compulsory chapters on Central Europe and Scandinavia, it includes three chapters on France and two on the Americas. Several studies take the concept of "circulation" seriously, as their findings are incorporated in a global perspective. The book deals with the standard fields of cameralism, such as mining and agriculture, but also includes studies on language skills in the service of diplomacy, the spread of information in small weekly papers, and the development of anthropology serving the state.
Transnational Cultures of Expertise is a welcome addition to the recent discussions on knowledge, science, technology, cameralism, and state building. First, there is support for an inclusive "negotiation process" that treats [End Page 1242] development as gradual from both a spatial and chronological perspective. See the study on Swedish mining by Hjalmar Fors and Jacob Orrje. They show there was ongoing communication between the Bureau of Mines, central office in Stockholm and its locally based mining officials as well as with experts travelling around Europe. Jacob Vogel also refutes a top-down approach in his article about Latin American mining. It would not have been possible for European officials with state-related knowledge to develop Latin American mining without the collaboration of the local mining administration. The book also addresses the vital political context of the independence movement in the early nineteenth century and expands the field of study through chapters on Cuba, translations, and anthropological perspectives.
Yet the volume is not flawless. The first point of criticism relates to the collection's format: the articles are far too short, and in a volume with such a wide scope, there is a need for "grounding" each investigation in a brief but succinct description of the spatial, institutional, and chronological framework. The authors do not consistently provide this, resulting in somewhat unbalanced reading. An even larger problem is the book's failure to dig deeper into the lurking question of what qualified as state-related knowledge during this period. A few concepts feature frequently, such as (useful) knowledge, science, technology, and cameralism, but the editors omit to outline their interrelationships...