The Renaissance of General Relativity in the Post-World War II Period

The Renaissance of General Relativity in the Post-World War II Period

Other involved Scholars: 

Markus Aspelmayer (Vienna University)
Jean Eisenstaedt (Observatoire de Paris)
Domenico Giulini (Hannover University)
Hubert Goenner (Göttingen)
Dennis Lehmkuhl (Caltech)
Brian Pitts (Cambridge University)
Jim Ritter (Institut de Mathématiques de Jussieu-Paris Rive Gauche)
Don Salisbury (Austin College)
Tilman Sauer (Bern University)
Kurt Sundermeyer (Free University of Berlin)
Jeroen van Dongen (Utrecht University and Amsterdam University)

In the century following Einstein's ultimate formulation in 1915, the general theory of relativity has evolved from a revolutionary mathematical theory with limited contact with the empirical world to an observationally and experimentally based cornerstone of modern physics and cosmology. This momentous shift started around the mid-1950s. While in the previous decades general relativity was perceived by physicists as a highly formalistic subject, by the mid-1960s Einstein’s theory has become an extremely vital research stream of theoretical physics, at the same time sparking entirely novel fields such as relativistic astrophysics  – a process that came to be known as “renaissance of general relativity.” This renewal of general relativity, moreover, crossed the boundaries of science, and had a large social impact as well as a significant influence on philosophical debates.

The project aims at investigating the global dynamics of this complex process by taking into account the interactions of a variety of factors such as intellectual developments, epistemological problems, technological advances, the characteristics of post- and Cold War science, and newly emerging institutional frameworks. A cooperation of scholars with different expertise has been set up in order to build this integrated account. The historiographical approaches range from a detailed study of the scientific developments of the theoretical framework provided by general relativity to an investigation of the social dynamics that led to the establishment of a community of relativists with the tools of the social network analysis. In the context of this project a conference has been organized to celebrate the centenary of Einstein’s formulation of general relativity.

The conference, entitled The "Renaissance" of General Relativity in History: Assessing Einstein’s Legacy in Post-World War II Physics, was held at the Harnack Haus from December 2 to December 5, 2015.


A. Blum, R. Lalli, J. Renn, “The Re-invention of General Relativity: A Historiographical Framework for Assessing 100 Years of Curved Space-time,” ISIS 106/3 (2015): 598-620.

A. Blum, L. Bonolis, R. Lalli, J. Renn, “La Relatività dopo la Guerra,” Le Scienze, Edizione italiana di Scientific American, 567 (2015): 48-53.

Dirk Wintergrün, Jürgen Renn, Roberto Lalli, Manfred Laubichler, and Matteo Valleriani. 2015. "Netzwerke als Wissensspeicher". In Die Zukunft der Wissensspeicher: Forschen, Sammeln und Vermitteln im 21. Jahrhundert, ed. Jürgen Mittelstraß. Konstanzer Wissenschaftsforum. Universitätsverlag Konstanz, Konstanz.

Lalli, Roberto: Building the General Relativity & Gravitation Community During the Cold War. 2017.

Gutfreund, Hanoch, and Jürgen Renn: The Formative Years of Relativity: The History and Meaning of Einstein's Princeton Lectures. 2017.

Rickles, D.: The Chapel Hill Conference in Context. In: The Role of Gravitation in Physics. 2011.

Blum, A. S., Giulini, D., Lalli, R., & Renn, J. (Eds.). (2017). The Renaissance of Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation [Special Issue]. European Physical Journal H, 42(2).

Blum, A. S., Giulini, D., Lalli, R., & Renn, J. (Eds.). (2017). Editorial introduction to the special issue "The Renaissance of Einstein’s Theory of Gravitation." European Physical Journal H, 42(2), 95-105. doi:10.1140/epjh/e2017-80023-3.

Blum, A. S., Lalli, R., & Renn, J. (2016). The renaissance of general relativity: how and why it happened. Annalen der Physik, 528(5), 344-349. doi:10.1002/andp.201600105.


More Information

Watch the talks given at the conference “A Century of General Relativity.” Go to Media Library

In the context of the centenary of the General Theory of Relativity, the MPIWG received a wide attention in the media. Read More

“Albert Einstein - Genie und Grenzgänger,” a podcast-series with Alexander Blum about the Theory of Relativity. Podcast Oct 29/ Nov 06, 2015

A chronology of the milestones of the theory of general relativity. Download

On the occasion of the anniversary, a joint conference of physicists and historians of science takes place in Berlin from 30.11.–05.12.2015. To Conference Website

In occasion of the 100th anniversary of Einstein's formulation of general relativity in Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science promotes a conference from 02.12.–05.12.2015. Go to Conference Website

The MPIWG commissioned the play " Transcendence " by Marc Robert Friedman about Einstein and the theory of relativity. It is performed from 20.11.–1.12. at the English Theatre Berlin. Go to Website

15th Einstein Lecture Dahlem: K.S. Thorne is giving a lecture titled “A Century of Einstein’s Relativity: From the Big Bang to Black Holes and “Interstellar”” (in English) on 25.11.2015. The Einstein Lectures Dahlem are organized by the FU Berlin and the MPG. Go to Website

Blum, Alexander S.: QED and the man who didn’t make it: Sidney Dancoff and the infrared divergence. – In: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. – 50 (2015), p. 70–94. Go to Article

Hanoch Gutfreund and Jürgen Renn have recently published two new books on Einstein. The Road to Relativity and Relativity: The Special and the General Theory

Princeton University Press provides a database of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. Go to Database

See a selection of articles and interviews published in the context of the anniversary. Go to Media & Press

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