Jürgen Renn


Dr., Professor, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Residence: since March 1, 1994


In his research Jürgen Renn studies, together with his group, structural changes in systems of knowledge. The aim is to develop a theoretical understanding of knowledge evolution, taking into account its epistemic, social and material dimensions. As groundwork for such a theoretical approach to the history of knowledge, he has been studying some of the great transformations of systems of physical knowledge, such as the origin of theoretical science in antiquity, the emergence of classical mechanics in the early modern period and the revolutions of modern physics in the early twentieth century. In addition to this longitudinal perspective on the evolution of knowledge, he and his collaborators have developed a transversal approach, studying dissemination and transformation processes of knowledge across cultural boundaries.

He has been engaged from the very start in the Digital Humanities and the Open Access Movement. He is a co-initiator of the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities launched by the MPG in 2003 and has created together with his colleagues the Edition Open Access as an innovative book series. He has also been responsible for numerous major exhibitions on the history of science from "Albert Einstein - Chief Engineer of the Universe" to "Archimede. Arte e scienza dell'invenzione". 

Jürgen Renn is honorary professor for History of Science at both the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Freie Universität Berlin. He has taught at Boston University, at the ETH in Zurich and at the University of Tel Aviv. He has held visiting positions in Vienna, Bergamo, Pavia and at CalTech. He is a member of the Leopoldina as well as of further national and international scientific and editorial boards. In 2011 he won the Premio Anassilaos International. In 2014, he won the ESHS Neuenschwander Prize and the Premio Internazionale Marco & Alberto Ippolito and was awarded the Max Planck Communitas Award and the Francis Bacon Award.

Selected publications

  • Renn, J. (2015). From the history of science to the history of knowledge – and back. Centaurus, 1-17. More http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1600-0498.12075
  • Renn, J. (2015). Learning from Kushim about the Origin of Writing and Farming. In Textures of the Anthropocene: Grain Vapor Ray (pp. 241-259). Cambridge: MIT Press. More http://www.hkw.de/de/media/publikationen/2014_textures_of_the_anthropozaen_grain_vapor_ray.php
  • Renn, J., & Brentjes, S. (2015). Globalization of Knowledge in the Post-Antique Mediterranean, 700–1500. London: Ashgate. More
  • Renn, J., & Gutfreund, H. (2015). Relativity: The Special and the General Theory 100th Anniversary edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press. More http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10434.html
  • Renn, J., & Gutfreund, H. (2015). The Road to Relativity: The History and Meaning of Einstein´s "The Foundation of General Relativity". Princeton: Princeton University Press. More
  • Renn, J., & Rynasiewicz, R. (2014). Einstein's Copernican revolution. In M. Janssen, & C. Lehner (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Einstein (pp. 38-71). New York: Cambridge University Press. More

More publications

Talks and presentations

May 2013 Musei Capitolini, Roma – Inauguration: Archimede, arte e scienza dell' invenzione
May 2013 Seven Pines Symposium: The Conceptual Development of Quantum Physics, Minnesota – From Classical Mechanics to Quantum Mechanics. Schroedinger and Umdeutung
April 2013 Planetarium am Insulaner, Berlin – Einsteins Entdeckung der Relativitaetstheorie
March 2013 Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES ), Paris – Einstein's Path to General Relativity
February 2013 UNESCO, First WSIS+10 Review Meeting, Paris – Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities + 10 Commitment of the Max Planck Society and International Research and Cultural Organisations


Teaching activities

2013 University of Vienna – Doctoral Colloquium
2013 Humboldt University/Free University Berlin – Doctoral Colloquium
2012 University of Bergamo – Seminar "Evolution of Knowledge"
2012 Humboldt University/Free University Berlin – Doctoral Colloquium
2011 Humboldt University/Free University Berlin – Doctoral Colloquium