Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin conducts research into how new categories of thinking, of proving and experiencing have developed during the centuries-long interaction between the sciences and the cultures in which they are embedded. To this end, comparative studies, which transcend eras and regions, investigate the historical circumstances under which scientific culture and science emerged as one culture. The individual research projects span several millennia; they relate to the cultures of the West and the East, the North and the South, and to a varied range of disciplines: for example, from Babylonian mathematics to today's genetics, or from the natural history of the Renaissance to the beginnings of quantum mechanics.


Boltzmannstr. 22
14195 Berlin
Phone: +49 30 22667-0
Fax: +49 30 22667-299

PhD opportunities

This institute has no International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS).

There is always the possibility to do a PhD. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Department Structural Changes in Systems of Knowledge


Department Artefacts, Action and Knowledge


Department Ideals and Practices of Rationality


Department Experimental Systems and Spaces of Knowledge

Leopoldina advocates a sustainable approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic

The Academy recommends a shift towards sustainable forms of economy, more European and international cooperation, and a strengthening of services of general interest and common goods that will make our societies more resilient to future crises

Flying chariots and exotic birds

How 17th century dreamers planned to reach the moon

A solar eclipse sheds light on physics

Observations of the cosmic shadow dance on 29 May 1919 substantiated a new scientific view of the world

Prestigious award for science historian Lorraine Daston

Historian of science Lorraine Daston from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin is honoured with the internationally renowned Israeli Dan David Prize.


Humans have taken dominion over the Earth – and have done so to an extent that threatens the basis for human life itself. From the perspective of our author, the development of scientific and technical knowledge has played a key role in the transition to the Anthropocene, the geological epoch of humankind. But we still need to learn more about the close interrelationship between the Earth and humans to be able to actually understand and overcome the crises that we create through our own actions.

For centuries, their lives were under threat: Europeans considered bears, wolves and ibexes either as a threat, a food source or trophies, and hunted them to extinction. Wilko Graf von Hardenberg, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, studies the ways in which our relationship to iconic mammals has changed over the centuries.

The changing climate necessitates saying farewell to oil and coal. But our society, and especially our ideals of freedom and prosperity, are heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin are investigating just how strong this dependency is and how we can free ourselves from it.

Max Planck researchers cooperate with partners in around 120 countries all over the world. Here, they write about their personal experiences and impressions. Thomas Turnbull from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin is involved in the project “Mississippi. An Anthropocene River”. As part of this venture, Turnbull paddled down a stretch of the Mississippi. He talks about a river that epitomizes the changes that humans have made to natural systems.

La Convivencia is viewed as a golden age of tolerance – a period of peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Jews and Christians in medieval Spain. The myth surrounding this period persists to this day. Researchers at the Max Planck Institutes for Social Anthropology in Halle and for the History of Science in Berlin are studying the history of the Convivencia and considering its possible function as a model for today’s world.

Big data isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, as far as historians of science are concerned. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, scholars, scientists and state authorities collected huge quantities of data, and analyzing all this raw material posed a challenge back then just as it does today. A group led by Elena Aronova, Christine von Oertzen and David Sepkoski at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin looks at the methods used in the past – many of them unexpected – and examines how changes in data handling has ultimately brought about changes in science and society.

Postdoctoral Position | Artifacts, Action, Knowledge

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin December 18, 2020

Postdoctoral scholar (m/f/d)

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin November 25, 2020

Heisenberg and the search for a final theory

2019 Blum, Alexander S

Cultural Studies

The search for a „final theory“ was a leitmotif of physics in the 20th Century. The Max Planck Research Group „Historical Epistemology of the Final Theory Program“, headed by Alexander Blum, studies and assesses this century-long search, using the methods of historical epistemology. Here it presents the (failed) attempts of the later Werner Heisenberg at constructing such a final theory.


The working group Proteins and Fibers at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science delves into how techniques and methods of using animal materials has developed in history across various locations and moments in time. The history of surgical silk sutures in Japan points to a fresh approach toward the history of animals. By focusing on proteinaceous fibers as the stuff of life subject to scientific analysis, a history of biological materiality begins to take shape.


Mining was one of the most important driving forces behind economic and technological dynamics in early modern Europe. This research project, hosted at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science offers a new perspective of the early modern mining industry as a sociomaterial phenomenon in its own right.


Experiencing the global environment: Between bodily and planetary scales

2016 Camprubí, Lino; Lehmann, Philipp

Cultural Studies

One of the main difficulties of communicating the urgency of a reduction in worldwide carbon emissions lies in the mediated way in which people and governments experience the dangers of a changing climate. We perceive the temperature and humidity of our immediate surroundings at a particular moment, but we lack any direct experience of the global environment. The working group Experiencing the Global Environment at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science strives to examine the history of this perceptual gap.


Listening to the history of modern acoustics

2015 Tkaczyk, Viktoria

Cultural Studies

The Max Planck Research Group “Epistemes of Modern Acoustics” initiates a consideration of sound in its dual function as an object of scientific investigation and as an epistemic tool. Acoustic strategies of knowledge production are another of the research group’s interests: What historical knowledge could be acquired or represented only acoustically? When and how were acoustic apparatuses, instruments, and machines deployed as alternative means of research?

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