For well over a decade, the notion of circulation has occupied a key position in the history of science. This emphasis has roots in a variety of distinctive analytical projects, ranging from the early actor-network theory of Bruno Latour to work on encounters and material exchange by Nicholas Thomas and other anthropologists. It has drawn on accounts of print culture, authorship, reading, and contemporary electronic communication, as well as studies of letter-writing, conversation, pedagogy, and translation. Understandings of circulation have proved important as the historians move from national or area studies of science towards broader understandings of the ways in which knowledge itself is always a form of cross-cultural interaction, exchange, and communication.
These tendencies are evident in a wide range of current work, to the point where the word "circulation" is in danger of becoming a meaningless buzzword. But as this problem suggests, the various uses of circulation remain poorly integrated, not least for those approaching the subject for the first time. This project aimed to reflect on knowledge as a form of communication and exchange. Drawing especially on work of the past decade, James Secord hoped to show that a stress on material culture grounded in environmental, economic, and social history can be compatible with a close analysis of texts, images, and objects. The aim was to explore practical possibilities in the compass of a short book.