Hybridity and Historiography – A Tricky Couple!

Things have power to act, Bruno Latour says. This French author alternates between natural science, social science and philosophy. For him, who founded the influential actor-network-theory (ANT), computer and their programs are hybrids between the linguistic and the real. In the language of ANT, he calls them Aktanten.

Things unfold their power because they are connected with people.

We see hybrid networks arising, where media constitute relations. We should assume that tools are not just tools, but cognitive interfaces that produce and convey knowledge. Therefore, historians should investigate how scientific facts and their representations are fabricated in a series of transformations. And in contemporary historiography we should ask by what criteria we construct reality to identify and evaluate its constant change. We get a hybrid field of complex media overlays, that much is clear.

Hybridity dissolves borders and modulates differences productively towards pluralism and inconsistency. This decentring deconstructs once dominant centres and colonial structures. Peripheries are a thing of the past. Therefore, for the writing of history, we need virtual spaces where different influences coexist and where diversity can be reflected. Thus, the position from which we operate history is changing radically.

But, hybrid cultures need such a position, too: they need to locate contradictory analysis in order to stabilize limitless discourses. Otherwise it will not be possible to understand and legitimize them. For historiography, we need a discursive link between a media-critical structural analysis and an identity-sensitive cultural analysis in time.

This bridge leads of virtual spaces where cultural concepts are formed and documented to specific locations where they are reflected by concrete horizons of expectation, and back again. This back and forth between real and virtual and between different cultures and identities is hopefully the answer for coping with hybridization – the mixture of resources, the de-territorialisation of symbolic processes and the expansion of unclear genres.

Please find more to this in my book Geschichte Digital – Historische Welten neu vermessen, recommended by the Helmut-Schmidt-University and discussed by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. It focus on hybrid scientific practices and asks for a new philosophy of the digital humanities / history.


Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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