Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis

prof. dr. ir. Fokko Jan Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis

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Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis studies the cultural history of early modern knowledge practices. Tracing spatial and cultural interactions and reconfigurations between various socio-cultural groups gives insight into the emergence of categories of science, technology and society.


His early research focused on the history of early modern optics, investigating the intersections between mathematics, physics and instruments in the seventeenth century. He made a detailed reconstruction of the origin of Huygens’ principle of wave propagation. He has an ongoing specific interest in matters of light, exploring new perspectives on early modern optics from the arts, instruments, philosophy, and economy.


His current research interests range from the substantiality of Enlightened conceptions of light, to the trail of atmospheric contraptions from Drebbel to Papin, and the urban chorography as breeding ground for knowledge as cultural asset. In his inaugural lecture Worlds of Ingenuity he outlined the historiographical context of such projects, highlighting the artifactual and experiential character of early modern knowledge practices.

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Knowledge is a principal key to modern society, we value information and expertise as assets. The particular forms and meanings underlying our knowledge society, and the particular privileging of 'science', emerged in the early modern period. History of knowledge develops interdisciplinary perspectives on the changing conceptions and practices of knowing in the broadest sense - what people did and how they valuated this - and how different ways of knowing were valuated and (re)ordered over time. Abstract as this may sound, it is about acting people and living cultures - scholars, craftsmen, merchants, artists - reading, writing, traveling, manufacturing, inquiring,

experimenting. Engaged with such diverse topics as how to make a beautiful red, what to do about the dirty floods of Amsterdam canals, why record the weather, and reading the world. Historical understanding modern knowledge practices is vital to present discussions of innovation, education, and governance.

My recent research deals with early modern 'natural magic' and practices of weather observation and prognostication. Connected to this I study Enlightened trends in the improvement of culture and society by the cultivation of useful knowledge and the transformation of natural resources. I have a long-standing interest in scholarly, artisanal, artistic engagements with light, color, images and vision.

My research focuses on early modern worlds of ingenuity but my expertise stretches out further in time. I contribute to several courses at the VU and to the master track Cultures of Knowledge. Students can participate in tutorials related to the history of knowledge, both early modern and modern. I can advise theses in the field of history of knowledge or containing aspects of knowledge practices. Students from history, art history, philosophy, but also from the sciences with an interest in reflecting upon their practices.

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Expertise: Early Modern History of Knowledge; Cultural History of Sciences; Light, Mathematics

Principal investigator Global Knowledge Society. Working Group IV, Borders and the Transfer of Knowledge

Ancillary activities

  • Universiteit Twente | Enschede | Medewerker | 2015-10-01 - present

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Ancillary activities

Werkgroep 18de Eeuw. Voorzitter. 2015


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