Programme research: The historical construction of a publically shared sensing of global contexts


By Staffan Bergwik

Department of Literature and History of Ideas

Stockholm University

The aim of this project is to study the historical construction of a publically shared sensing of global contexts. It seeks to understand this sensing as a co-construction of knowledge and emotions. The empirical focus is 20th century geography; the project asks how expeditions created “emotions of exploration”. Through the study of Sven Hedin’s travels to Asia between 1893 and 1935, it asks how such knowledge making contributed to the perception of vast spaces on land and at sea. How did knowledge generate a public yearning to understand the distant unknown? How were global scales turned into a shared matter of concern?

Drawing on research in the history of emotions and the history of the senses, the project studies emotions as collectively shaped phenomena. Methodologically, it addresses arenas where emotions were formulated and circulated in public, e.g. books, popular presentations and academic journals. The way we collectively sense the global is fundamental to how we come to frame our problems and actions at a time of ecological and social crisis. However, the sensing of global contexts must be understood as a product of historical contexts. We need to increase our knowledge about how those contexts were shaped in the modern era.

The project is a collaboration between the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Department of Literature and History of Ideas, Stockholm university, and the Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Sven Hedin på kamel. Bilden från Hvar 8 dag, vol. 10:17, 1909.

Sven Hedin on a camel. Image from Hvar 8 dag, vol. 10:17, 1909.


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