Epistemic Writings

Epistemic Writings

Christoph Hoffmann

In an examination of the epistemic effects and functions of writing in the scientific practice, this project focused on two types of materials. The first and major subject was a comparative study of notebooks from the period between 1870 and 1930. It was in this timespan that division of labor started in the scientific workplace, and connected to this, the “mechanization” of scientific practice replaced the “human-based” type of experimenting and observing. The notebook plays a double role in this respect: it is a means of administration, which holds together several activities of a scientist, and it offers a space for bringing together and reworking the output of experiments and observations carried out by other people or at other times. In addition to the notebooks of the physician and philosopher of science, Ernst Mach, the project also relied on notebooks of the biologist Karl von Frisch. The findings were compared to practices of notation in philosophical (Friedrich Nietzsche) and literary contexts (Robert Musil).

A second part of the project dealt with two serials of protocols of post-mortem findings from the first decades of the twentieth century from the Pathological Institutes of the Westend Hospital and the Virchow Hospital in Berlin. Here Christoph Hoffmann reconstructed the function of writing in a particular scientific context and workplace. Of interest was the standardization of the writing process, the actual means by which it was conducted, the use and organization of forms, the particulars of filling out a form, the teaching of writing down a protocol and the individual styles of recording, and the further reworking of the recorded findings for scientific publications. One of the major points in this respect is that protocols of post-mortem findings are different from protocols of many other scientific observations in that they have to deal in the strictest sense with irreproducible phenomena. In most cases, only the record (and sometimes a prepared part of the body or, in today’s practice, tissue sections) remains of the object under investigation.

Funding Institutions

Fritz Thyssen Stiftung