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Matthias Schemmel

Visiting Scholar (Feb 2022-Jan 2026)

Dr., Professor, Universität Hamburg

Matthias Schemmel is a professor of historical epistemology at Universität Hamburg. He studies the historical development of structures of knowledge connected to the exact sciences in their cognitive, material, and social dimensions from both a long-term and a global perspective. The aim is to achieve an understanding of the place of scientific knowledge within human societies, specifically in regard to its epistemic status as well as its impact on society. In working toward this goal, he has pursued empirical, that is, source-based, research in different areas marked by important knowledge transformations. These areas are the emergence of theoretical science in ancient societies; transformations within the medieval and early modern European knowledge systems; the transfer of knowledge between cultures, particularly China and the West; and the reorganization of the knowledge of physics, astronomy, and their neighboring disciplines in the twentieth century.

A particular focus of his research is external, or material, representations of knowledge–such as manuscripts–and the role they play in the transmission and transformation of knowledge. In this context he also works on various digital editions of manuscripts and handwritten artifacts. Current research and teaching activities further pertain to the political dimension of science and the role of science in the Anthropocene.


Crisis of Humankind and Scientific Truth: Reflection on Science at the Starnberg Max Planck Institute (1970–1980)


Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative Project (CDLI)


Epistemic Configurations: The Formation of Anthropocene Knowledge


IV. Anthropocene Formations


Mathematical Practices in Early Modern India


Research Websites as Research Data


The Encounter of Two Systems of Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century China


The Water City: The Political Epistemology of Hydrogeological Praxis


Albert Einstein—Chief Engineer of the Universe (Exhibition 2005)


Development of Mechanical Knowledge in China


Historical Epistemology of Space


Knowledge as a Fellow Traveler


Knowledge of Astronomy and the Invention of the Telescope: International Year of Astronomy 2009


Scholastic Elaborations of Ancient Mechanics


The Emergence and Expansion of Preclassical Mechanics


The Genesis of General Relativity (Four-Volume Edition)


Selected Publications

Sousa Buarque, Bernardo, Mona Friedrich, Birgit Kolboske, Jürgen Renn, Matthias Schemmel, Juliane Scholz, Alexander von Schwerin, Sascha Topp, and Malte Vogl (2024). “Dimensionen wissenschaftlichen Arbeitens.” In Die Max-Planck-Gesellschaft:…

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Schemmel, Matthias (2024). “Everyday Language and Technical Terminology: Reflective Abstractions in the Long-term History of Spatial Terms .” In Coming to Terms: Approaches to (Ancient) Terminologies, ed. M. Asper, 243–258. Berlin: De Gruyter. https…

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Schemmel, Matthias (2023). “Arguing from Appearance: The Numerical Reconstruction of Galactic Tails and Bridges.” In Scientific Visual Representations in History, ed. M. Valleriani, G. Giannini, and E. Giannetto, 315–329. Cham: Springer. https://doi…

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Schemmel, Matthias and William Boltz (2022). Theoretical Knowledge in the ‘Mohist Canon.’ Archimedes 63. Cham: Springer.

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Selected Talks & Teaching Activities

“Alternatives in the history of science: Pathways of mechanics in early modern Europe and in China”

Tsinghua Lectures on the History and Philosophy of Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing

“On the Dialectics of Abstraction as a Cognitive and Historical Process” (with Sascha Freyberg)

International Meeting of the Association for the Philosophy of Mathematical Practice, ETH Zürich

“Political Epistemology“

Seminar (with Senthil Babu, Sascha Freyberg, and Pietro D. Omodeo), Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia

“Global History of Science as a Knowledge Resource for the Anthropocene”

"Humanities on the Ground: Confronting the Anthropocene in Asia," Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto

“Arguing from Appearance: The Numerical Reconstruction of Galactic Tails and Bridges"

Conference, "The Epistemic Functions of Vision in Science," Università degli Studi di Bergamo

“From Historical to Political Epistemology: Examples from the History of the Exact Sciences”

European Society for the History of Science Biennial Conference 2018, London

“Geschichte des Raumbegriffs von der Antike bis in die Gegenwart in erkenntnistheoretischer Absicht [History of the concept of space from antiquity to the present]”

Seminar, Humboldt University of Berlin

“The Concepts of Duration and Non-duration in the Ancient Chinese ‘Mohist Canon’: Cognitive Universals and Cultural Specifics”

"Philosophy of Time: A View from the Past," University of Milan

“Experience and Reflection in a Long-term History of Spatial Concepts”

Center for Logic, History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest

“How Many Times Have the Natural Sciences Emerged?” (with Jürgen Renn)

International Symposium on China and the World in the Global History of Science and Technology, Institute for the History of the Natural Sciences, CAS, Beijing