In history of science, my home field, we speak of knowledge: production, dissemination, transformation of knowledge; knowledge in context, geographies of knowledge, knowledge in transit, socially constructed knowledge, tacit knowledge, embodied knowledge, situated knowledge, indigenous knowledge. Random titles of history of science publications include “Cultivating knowledge in nineteenth-century English gardens” “Worthless knowledge: Science at the fringes of credibility” “Oxford Realism: Knowledge and Perception II” “Marketing knowledge for the general reader: Victorian popularizers of science.” Searching this blog, I found few posts with the word knowledge in the title and interestingly two of them had something to do with science: “Alice O’Connor’s Poverty Knowledge: Intellectual History in Action” (social sciences), “Workshop: “Knowledge and Science in Francophone Atlantic World” circa 1500-1800.” (The other two were “Blogging Academic Knowledge Part I & II“.)
However, my impression is that, and please correct me if I am wrong and excuse my grand generalizations, intellectual historians more often use terms like “ideas” rather than “knowledge.” I wonder if there is any significance to this? I am not sure. One possible difference which would lead to emphasis of knowledge is that histories of science often highlight communities, either scientific or lay, rather than individuals. Another possibility is that science is often analyzed as practice, often involving manipulation of images, instruments, and networks of many kinds. Maybe in such contexts speaking of knowledge more generally, is preferable to just speaking about ideas, beliefs and thoughts. Yet another explanations could be that history of science itself is an intertwining of intellectual, cultural, and social histories–all around the notion of the production of knowledge. Of course, historians of science use the notion of ideas as much as intellectual historians use the notion of knowledge, and neither seems very concerned with specifying what exactly is meant by those concepts. Nonetheless, there seems to be a perceptible difference in emphasis. I wonder what is a difference between history of knowledge and history of ideas?
(Full disclosure: in my dissertation I argue against using the concepts of “ideas” and “beliefs” in analyzing formation of scientific communities. However, my argument is idiosyncratic and does not reflect the wider community of historians of science, yet 🙂