Routes of Knowledge - Interview with research leader Poul Duedahl

Routes of Knowledge - Interview with research leader Poul Duedahl

Interview conducted by the Danish Council for Independent Research in June 2013

What is the title of the research project being funded by the Danish research career program, Sapere Aude?

Officially, it is “Routes of Knowledge: The Global History of UNESCO, 1945-75”, but I prefer to call it the “Global History of UNESCO Project”. It’s easier to say and more of an eye-catcher.

How did you get involved in this field of research in the first place?

I have often wondered why our historical knowledge of international organizations seems to be strictly limited to studies of the organizations' underlying ideas and initiatives as they appeared behind the thick walls of the organization's headquarters – without paying much attention to their subsequent travel routes and local impacts. I have wanted to change this research agenda for years. Partly because it so obviously makes sense to analyze the role of international organizations in the history of globalization and partly because the overall objective of the organizations is to make a difference and they should thus be evaluated in terms of whether they actually managed to make a difference.

What are the perspectives and challenges of the project?

Altogether, the project provides an impression of the contribution of international organizations to the history of globalization, and at the same time it is my hope that the project’s analytic approach could inspire to similar studies of the historical impact of other international organizations.
More specifically, the research team will be focusing on UNESCO - the United Nations’ specialized agency for science, education and culture. The organization’s initial mission was to ensure peace and security by carrying out a considerable amount of mental engineering and thus change people's mindsets in the shadow of the aggression of World War II. The challenge is to trace the routes of UNESCO's ideas and initiatives from the center to the periphery – from UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris to the member states and to assess their local impact. We are going to conduct archival research in nine member states across the globe in order to assess the effect of a number of selected initiatives on the mindsets of the first generation after World War II.

How will the Sapere Aude program impact your career?

It is going to be a giant leap forward in almost every respect. Firstly, it makes it possible to bring together a strong team of scholars and a corresponding network with expertise within the study of international organizations and their historical impact, which is badly needed. Secondly, it is only possible to conduct global impact studies with the financial support of a certain size, because they have to be conducted locally and not at headquarters alone. Thirdly, the program provides us with the opportunity of getting something as rare and valuable as time for reflection. And I could go on and on…

Who is the person behind the research leader?

I am married and father of two children (Alexander, aged 9, and Anna, aged 6). My wife was born in China's ancient capital, Xi'an, which was the starting point of the Silk Route and the first city in the entire world with more than one million inhabitants. We have an apartment there and go there as often as we possibly can. Our regular visits serve as a way for the children to better understand this part of their identity and to maintain their Chinese language skills. But the stays are also an endless source of inspiration for me, both personally and professionally. They have provided me a global mindset and never cease to offer new insights into places and events of major importance to my research about the history of globalization and cultural encounters. In other words, the research leader and the person behind him are men with convergent interests!



Research Coordinator Poul Duedahl

Kroghstraede 1, 9220 Aalborg O, Denmark

Phone: +45 9940 9141