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.
Department II’s major research projects are conducted both collectively and individually. Each project organizes one or more Working Groups: six to eighteen scholars aiming at a collective publication. Publications of past Working Groups include: Biographies of Scientific Objects (2000), The Moral Authority of Nature (2004), Things that Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science (2004), Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism (2005), Natural Laws and Laws of Nature in Early Modern Europe (2008), Histories of Scientific Observation (2011), Beyond the Academy: Histories of Gender and Knowledge (2013), How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality (2014), Endangerment, Biodiversity, and Culture (2015), Canonical Texts and Scholarly Practices (2016), Documenting the World: Film, Photography, and the Scientific Record (2016), Before Copernicus: The Cultures and Contexts of Scientific Learning in the Fifteenth Century (2017), Science in the Archives (2017), and Data Histories (2017).
Individual scholars with related interests, from Pre- and Postdoctoral Fellows to senior Visiting Scholars, are also invited to pursue their own research and single-authored publications under the umbrella of the major departmental research projects. All Department II scholars meet regularly to discuss work-in-progress at the bimonthly colloquia.