The History of Observing the Everyday – Interdisciplinary Lessons from a Working Group on Journalistic Practices
Hansjakob Ziemer (MPI Wissenschaftsgeschichte), Petra McGillen (Dart- mouth College, Hanover/NH), Andie Tucher (Columbia University/NY), Lisa Bolz (Deutsches Historisches Institut, Paris)
Fueled by the innovation of the mass press, the decades before and after 1900 witnessed a golden age of journalism both in terms of sheer quantity of press products and the professionalization of the vocation. It was during this period that journalists emerged as self-defined professional interpreters of the social world. Recent studies have shown that by the 1920s the periodical press did not simply attempt to reproduce “raw information,” but they also claimed to represent a “knowledge in itself” that was largely independent of other discourses (D. Matheson, 2000). While journalists had used observational techniques before, they now applied their skills not only to record the phenomena of the world but also to create hierarchies of knowledge and to claim authority on what they wrote. Journalists invested in new techniques such as the interview and the report, and their practices—note-taking, writing, creating types, organizing and classifying observations, and others—helped to establish them as producers, gatherers, and transmitters of the social knowledge of their time.
From 2017-2020, an international group of historians gathered for the working group “Observing the Everyday: Journalistic Practices and Knowledge Production in the Modern Era,” coordinated by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. A truly interdisciplinary undertaking, these historians presented and discussed case studies of journalistic practices from various perspectives: the histories of media studies and journalism, science and culture, literature and technology. They explored and outlined the several dimensions of journalistic knowledge production, such as the transfers of journalistic content, the self-reflection of journalists about their practices, the role and strategies of journalists as observers of the world, the influence of technology, the contexts in which journalists employed their short format writing, and the place of norms and virtues in journalistic work.
This panel discussion takes three exemplary case studies from this collaborative project, the results of which will be published later this year with Routledge, to explore the potential of a history of journalistic practices for a history of knowledge in broader terms.