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.

Contact

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 Ideals and Practices of Rationality

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Department Structural Changes in Systems of Knowledge

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Department Artefacts, Action and Knowledge

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Department Experimental Systems and Spaces of Knowledge

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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.

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A rapid transition of the world’s energy systems

Jürgen Renn, Robert Schlögl, Christoph Rosol and Benjamin Steininger present a research initiative of the Max Planck Society on socio-technical aspects of energy transformation.

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The inconstant level of the sea

Sea level – the geographical reference point and indicator of climate change – is a surprisingly variable parameter

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“Light also has a cultural history”

Interview with Jürgen Renn and Matthias Schemmel from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science about a phenomenon which is both familiar and mysterious

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Is bigger better?

Is bigger better?

October 20, 2014

Large-scale technology projects – and their dramatic effects – highlight the role size and scale play in our understanding of the world that surrounds us

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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.

Objectivity ranks as one of the highest ideals in research, but that wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until the 19th century that it began to vie with the centuries-old principle of natural truth. Even today, the two concepts still come into conflict. As the author explains, some scientific controversies are more easily understood through a closer look at the history of science.

The ancient Chinese invented not only fireworks, porcelain and the wheelbarrow, but the precursor of post-its as well – those self-sticking, yellow pieces of paper used for writing down all sorts of notes. These are the kinds of sources that Dagmar Schäfer and her team at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin examine to learn more about planning histories and their impact on society, thereby also challenging the paradigms of their own discipline.

Not only did they create impressive works of art, they also took an interest in alchemy, mathematics and the natural sciences. At the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, researchers headed by Sven Dupré are studying how artists in the early modern era discovered, depicted and circulated new knowledge through their works.

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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.

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Experiencing the global environment: Between bodily and planetary scales

2017 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.

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Listening to the history of modern acoustics

2016 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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Knowledge in the Anthropocene

2015 Renn, Jürgen; Omodeo, Pietro D.; Rosol, Christoph; Schemmel, Matthias; Valleriani, Matteo

Cultural Studies

An approach to a long-term history of human knowledge is outlined that takes into account the cognitive, social and material dimensions of this development in their mutual interaction. It may thereby contribute to a reflective potential that is useful for consciously shaping the Anthropocene.

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Yellow strips on sketches, models and artefacts bespeak of the Qing empire’s interest in material production. Around 1700, court officials systematically employed these predecessors of modern post-its notes to communicate the design of artefacts of all kinds. The technical and aesthetic documents became the empirical basis upon which Chinese scholar-officials, sophisticating managerial methods, debated the validity of standards and procedures. Alongside ideals and realization, the materiality of planning unfolds how knowledge and action were negotiated to make things work.

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