May 26, 2021
What is the relationship between culture and knowledge?
Object 1: Astrolabe
The first object is an astrolabe, a tool used by sailors during the Age of Exploration. It was a versatile instrument to find latitude of the sun, stars, and time. The astrolabe was initially developed by the Muslims in the 9th century, becoming a valuable object to their culture and religion. The astrolabe was commonly used by the Portuguese and Spanish explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries, allowing them to find their way to unknown countries such as India and Brazil. This granted civilizations to gain new knowledge of the world around them.
This would be enriching for the exhibition as this object was key in defining new knowledge, that ultimately contributed to cultural practices and traditions. It was crucial to the Portuguese to navigate through the oceans and meet with civilizations and cultures in Africa, the Americas and Asia. The astrolabe enabled Portuguese societies to gain a perception of the world and bring to Europe products to be traded, that before, were not accessible to European populations.
For example, pepper is a spice brought by the Portuguese to Europe that became widely used in cultural practices. We can also see this object as a symbol of spirituality in Muslim cultures, helping astronomically determine prayer times and an aid in finding the direction to Mecca.
Interestingly, the astrolabe seems to have rehabilitated into the form of a modern-day phone. Just like previous civilizations that resided on Earth depended on such an object for direction, certainty, and decision-making, we too have our phones that helps us understand the world around us. Through the power of knowledge that the astrolabe gave to us, we were able to develop economically through mathematic calculations used from the object all the way to developments in the fields of science and technology. The relationship between culture and knowledge is clear here, they both need each other: just like society needed the astrolabe to accumulate a perception of the world around them.
Object 2: Old printing machine
Just like we saw from the astrolabe, everything that we do takes a consequence in life in one way or another. This can see throughout human history. Historical events have made huge contributions to our present daily lives. The 15th century, an archival period during the early modern Europe, an invention by Johannes Gutenberg of the “movable type” printing press gave way to a cultural revolution.
At the time before Johannes Gutenberg’s “movable type” printing press was invented, undeveloped forms of printing and writing were the only ways of writing text. These forms included handwriting everything which was time consuming and did not reach large audiences. This way, knowledge was kept capsuled to those considered elite and powerful such as the Church. It also created a blockage to liberty of expression because all knowledge would come from one source and in return, culture revolved around what people would hear and see, not what they thought.
This object allowed for books and newspapers to be printed at a mass number and at cheaper rates. Dissemination of knowledge was enabled to large audiences, regardless of social classes and status. In fact, the printing press was significantly popular amongst the lower class.
This object would contribute positively to the exhibition because the printing machine symbolizes a gateway to knowledge and ideas. The spread of ideas leads to publication of books and newspapers. People could finally share their beliefs and values which were once dictated by those who had power. This object has played a critical role in the evolution of culture across centuries due to most of the modern world being shaped under its influence.
Object 3: Google Maps
With the rise of new technology and development, we no longer ask “where are we?” when we travel, instead unconsciously ignoring our surroundings and limiting ourselves to them. All that matters to us is how to get from one point to the other.
The screenshot of a route from London to Lisbon is a real example of this argument. Let’s say I wanted to go on a car journey from London, point A and Lisbon, point B. The digital map will find the most efficient route. If I just focused on the route itself, I would not gain awareness of several sights and locations which would be interesting to discover and would make that journey a true cultural experience.
When the digital map identifies your location, it will give you points of interest in your journey. This can include restaurants, museums or even points relevant to your taste. They have allowed for a level of personalization which enables you to explore the world based on your preferences, tastes, and interests. But isn’t one of the main purposes of travel to not make it about ourselves,
even to lose ourselves in the joy of finding the other? Of finding ways living which are different to ours?
I think this is what makes this object so fascinating and paradoxical at the same time. They allow us to get around smoothly but at the same time by doing all the work for you, they restrict our capacity to ask questions on our surroundings and actively search for answers. The knowledge of the world around us is what is within the technology. There is something very powerful discovering the world when we allow to lose ourselves in the experience of travel, to simply ask “where are we” and to ask other individuals to help us based on their own human experience of their surroundings.
Roos, David. 2021. “7 Ways the Printing Press Changed the World”.HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/printing-press-renaissance.
Zelazko, Alicja. 2021. “astrolabe | Definition, History, & Facts”. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/astrolabe-instrument.
McMullan, Thomas. 2021. “How digital maps are changing the way we understand our
world”.the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/dec/02/how-digital-maps-changing-the-way-we-