Gerd Grasshoff

Max Planck Fellow
Department I
Prof. Dr.
1. April 2016 to 31. März 2021

Gerd Graßhoff has been Professor for History of Ancient Science at the Humboldt-University and director of the Excellence Cluster Topoi since 2010. Graßhoff studied physics, mathematics, philosophy, and the history of natural sciences at the Universities of Bochum, Hamburg, and Oxford, earning his doctorate in Philosophy with a dissertation on the history of the Star Catalogue of Ptolemy ("Die Geschichte des Ptolemäischen Sternenkatalogs. Zur Genesis des Sternenverzeichnisses aus Buch VII und VIII des Almagest"). In 1995, he received his "venia legendi" (habilitation) with a work on the art of scientific discovery (“Die Kunst wissenschaftlichen Entdeckens – Grundzüge einer Theorie epistemischer Systeme“).

Graßhoff has taught at Hamburg University and the University of Bern in Switzerland (1999–2010). He has held visiting positions at the Institute for Advanced Study Princeton, where he collaborated with Otto Neugebauer, and at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv.

Graßhoff’s research covers the history and philosophy of science, from ancient Babylonian time to current science, with a focus on ancient astronomy (Babylonian astronomy, Ptolemy, ancient geography) and its medieval reception leading to the scientific revolution (Copernicus, Kepler). Methodological investigation concerns the evolution of scientific thinking including technological innovation processes and their characteristic development. For his research on the philosophy of scientific discovery, he introduced artificial intelligence approaches of computer discovery systems. The study of the discovery of the urea synthesis by Hans Krebs and Kurt Henseleit showed how new historical knowledge is achieved through step-by-step remodeling of the historical experiment design, causal reasoning and hypothesis generation by the researcher. The computer model was the first that successfully reconstructed a complex scientific discovery and gained hereby new insights into its historical circumstances.

Graßhoff’s recent research focusses on new methods of computational history of science. He studies the use of geometrical knowledge by the craftsmen for making material objects, which has been investigated in the context of architecture (Digital Pantheon Project) and the Ancient Sundials Project. The analysis relies extensively on current tools of digital humanities as deep learning, image recognition and natural language toolkits.

In his research project as Max Planck Fellow (having started April 2016), Graßhoff, together with his group (Olivier Defaux, Malte Vogl), investigates the evolution of textual transmissions and the ancient geography, drawing on algorithmic methods to solve novel, challenging questions in the history of science.





Max Planck Institute for the History of Science 
Boltzmannstraße 22 
14195 Berlin 

Curriculum Vitae