Size Matters: Knowledge, Storage, and the History of Compression

Hansun Hsiung recently finished his PhD about textbooks and the globalization of scientific knowledge in the nineteenth century at Harvard. He is currently working on a project about compression at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin. An interview with Hansun Hsiung on the History of Compression

Interview by Dennis Schep

What is the history of compression?

In the past decade or so, several historians, most notably Ann Blair, have attempted to historicize our contemporary “information overload” by excavating precursors from the early modern era. These studies have shown that since the rise of commercial print at latest, we’ve been creatively struggling with the problem of “too much to know.” My project takes this line of inquiry, and refocuses it on problems of material infrastructure. Knowledge is embedded in objects, and we build infrastructures such as libraries and archives to house these objects. But objects take up space. Thus, if information overload does have a long history, then this history is not only a problem of “too much to know.” It must also be a problem of “too much to store.”

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Roundtable: Critique

On January 21, a roundtable discussion on the history and current meaning of critique

Credit: Jean-Paul Sartre, Gilles Deleuze, and Michel Foucault; picture by Elie Kagan

took place at Spektrum in Berlin. The event was organized and moderated by Dennis Schep (Friedrich Schlegel Graduiertenschule). Participants were:

Luce deLire (Philosophy and German and Romance Languages and Literatures, Johns Hopkins University)

Hansun Hsiung (Max-Planck Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte)

Jule Govrin (Friedrich Schlegel Graduiertenschule)

Jan-Philipp Kruse (Rechts- und Verfassungstheorie, TU Dresden)

The afternoon began with preliminary provocations from each participant. What follows is an abridged and edited transcript of the subsequent audience discussion only. A full audio recording, including the presenters’ preliminary provocations, can be found here.

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