Department II studies the history of scientific reason. Its topics are categories, concepts, and practices that are fundamental to modern science and culture—so fundamental that they seem to transcend history: evidence, proof, objectivity. Ongoing projects address the division between the “natural” and “human” realms (Between the Natural and Human Sciences), and “gender” (Gender Studies of Science). The Department’s current main project (Sciences of the Archive) examines the memory of the sciences: how data is collected, classified, stored, and accessed, as well as the changing meaning of “data” in sciences such as astronomy, climatology, history, geology, and philology. Since the hidden histories of these taken-for-granted topics only become visible when contexts vary, most projects have a comparative dimension, spanning many centuries, several cultures, and/or multiple disciplines (Science in Circulation). A new project on Science and Modernity asks about the relationship between modern science and other aspects of modernity, such as industrialization, democratization, or secularization, from a global perspective.
Publications & Digital Resources
Jenny Bangham Judith Kaplan (2016)
There are powerful social, political, and epistemological reasons for concealing (or revealing) certain people and practices in the course of scientific research and publication. The human sciences—including biology and biomedicine as well as anthropology, linguistics, and social science—depend upon people with diverse values and expertise, who have varied motivations and degrees of political agency. Research encounters are often orchestrated by actors behind the scenes—tissue donors, survey respondents, student subjects, translators, activists, ethics review boards, civic or religious institutions, lawyers, nurses, and archivists. Their contributions move in and out of the shadows as scientific knowledge is made, with important consequences for the authority and authenticity of research findings. Through a collection of case studies, this volume encourages methodological reflection on whether and how historians of science and STS scholars might recover contributions to the human sciences. Ultimately the volume asks how our professional, institutional, geographical and political circumstances condition whom we claim to speak of and for.
F. Jamil Ragep (2014)
In discussions of the possible connections between Copernicus and his Islamic predecessors, the so-called Ṭūsī-couple, invented by the 13th-century Persian polymath Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, has often been invoked by various modern historians to bolster their cases for or against transmission from Islamic astronomy to Copernicus. This paper seeks to clarify the possible routes of transmission by first explaining the various versions of the Ṭūsī-couple that were meant to produce either straight-line or curvilinear oscillations from circular motions, and then summarizing what is known about this transmission, providing new evidence as well as reinterpreting existing evidence. It becomes clear that there are a variety of avenues by which the various couples could have come into Europe, such as through Byzantium, through Spain, and through Italy, and that Copernicus acknowledges the earlier existence of at least one version of the couple in a draft of De Revolutionibus. The paper concludes with a historiographical note that maintains that the long, complex development and use of the Ṭūsī-couples within an Islamic context, and the lack of anything comparable in Europe before Copernicus, provides a compelling argument for transmission rather than parallel discovery within a Latin/European context.
Fernando Vidal Nelia Dias (2014)
We propose to use “endangerment sensibility” to designate the perception that vast portions of the world are in danger of extinction or destruction, together with the complex of concepts, values and practices dealing with human and non-human entities considered threatened. We then sketch main issues associated with the endangerment sensibility in three areas that are crucial across all domains from biodiversity to cultural heritage: diversity as a constitutive value; listing as a fundamental epistemic practice; and emotions as integral to both the values and the sciences of endangerment. Exploring “endangerment” in such a perspective highlights the extent to which it is rooted in historically situated ethical, political, emotional and epistemic configurations. Wir verwenden den Begriff “Sensibilität der Gefährdung” als Bezeichnung der Wahrnehmung, dass weite Teile der Welt Gefahr laufen, vernichtet zu werden, sei es durch Aussterben oder Zerstörung. Wir schließen in den Begriff all jene Konzepte, Werte und Praktiken ein, die sich auf als gefährdet eingestufte menschliche wie nichtmenschliche Einheiten beziehen. Wir skizzieren drei Kernpunkte, welche die Sensibilität der Gefährdung von der Biodiversität bis zum Kulturellen Erbe prägen: Erstens Diversität als grundlegende Wertschätzung; zweitens Listung als fundamentale epistemische Praxis; und drittens Gefühle als integralen Bestandteil der Werte wie auch der Wissenschaften der Gefährdung. Aus dieser Perspektive bringt die Erforschung der “Gefährdung” als Phänomen der Wahrnehmung zum Vorschein, inwieweit die betreffenden Sensibilitäten jeweils in historisch situierten ethischen, politischen, emotionalen und epistemischen Konstellationen wurzeln.
Angelo Baracca (2014)
Post-revolutionary Cuba is a unique case among underdeveloped countries. This small plot of land – less than one thousand of the emerged Earth surface with barely 1.5 per thousand of the World population, with scarce resources – decided in 1959 to develop an advanced scientific system, with the explicit goal of both solving the most urgent problems for the development of the country and for its population (primarily the health problems), and to overcome the condition of subalternity. This process was very original also for the free and open-minded recourse to every kind of support and collaboration, with Soviet and Western scientists and institution, besides a typical Cuban inventiveness. The success of this project was striking. In the following three decades Cuba built an advanced and articulated scientific system, and achieved an excellence level in leading scientific fields. Among these, one can mention electronics and superconductivity, but probably the most striking top-level results were achieved, quite surprisingly, in a capital-intensive and typically American field like biotechnology. This last success has called the attention of the most qualified international Journals, such as Nature, Science and the specialized literature. Even more remarkable is that the development of Cuban biotechnology was completely independent from any collaboration and support from the Soviet Union, which was backward in this field.
At the turn of the 1980s, however, the collapse of the Soviet Union left Cuba in an extremely difficult economic situation, seriously putting at risk the achievements of the Revolution, and posing again the threat of subalternity. Most analysts even predicted the downfall of the Cuban economy and regime. The American embargo was intentionally worsened. Actually, the Cuban scientific system withstood the tremendous shock despite the loss of every support, confirming the maturity and autonomy it had attained, even though the economic difficulties inevitably undermined many scientific sectors. In face of such a critical situation, the Cuban government reconfirmed and reinforced the choice of supporting its most advanced and profitable scientific sectors, especially in the biomedical sector, as a strategy to overcome the present difficulties. This strategy proved to be once again a well chosen choice.
The present essay presents a wide-ranging reconstruction of the complex process of Cuban scientific development, based on, and reviewing the relevant literature that has addressed this problem. The explicit thesis is that the Cuban way of addressing and overcoming subalternity is unique in contemporary history.
An original contribution is the first reconstruction of the unique role of Italian biologists in the training and growth of Cuban geneticists and biotechnologists between mid 1960s and mid 1970s.
Mirjam Brusius (2011)
Angela Matyssek (2010)
Susanne Lehmann-Brauns Christian Sichau Helmuth Trischler (2010)
Francesca Bordogna (2010)
Fabian Krämer (2009)
Tanja Munz (2009)
Zur Shalev (2009)
Thomas Sturm Uljana Feest (2009)
Friedrich Steinle (1996)
Wolfgang Küttler (1996)