History of the Max Planck Society (Forschungsprogramm Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft–GMPG)

Research Program History of the Max Planck Society


German post stamp on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the MPG in 1998. Photo: Birgit Kolboske

The Research Program “History of the Max Planck Society” (Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, GMPG) has emerged from Department I and its work in the historical epistemology of scientific institutions. Initiated by the president of the Max Planck Society (MPG) Peter Gruss the program assumed its work with the approval of president Martin Stratmann in June 2014. Jürgen Kocka (Berlin Science Center), Jürgen Renn, Carsten Reinhardt (Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia) form a board with Florian Schmaltz as research director. 

The research program aims at a comprehensive analysis of the MPG history embedded in the contexts of contemporary history and history of science. The research period under investigation covers the Society’s foundation in 1948 and ends with the presidency of Hubert Markl in 2002. Concerning the former presidential commission on the history of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in National Socialism as well as the completion of the Aufbau Ost program the investigation will be extended until 2005. The research program has a focus on the dynamic interactions of research practice and institutional history; on the changes in working methods and research objectives of the MPG; on its local and global networks and how these are embedded in science, society and politics. Given that more than 80 institutes existed in 2002 plus 20 more that have been closed since 1948, the objective is not so much to investigate the history of individual institutes as a comprehensive approach allowing us to study clusters of institutes active in the same scientific field.

To understand the fundamental and global changes in the modern world, a history of the twentieth century must acknowledge the tremendous impact of science and technology on political, economic, military, and social developments. In order to understand contemporary history of science, it is crucial to investigate Germany’s most prominent research organization: the Max Planck Society.

Despite numerous institute chronicles and anniversary editions, supplemented by a few significant historical case studies, the MPG still largely remains terra incognita. The ongoing research project on the history of the MPG will open new and so far neglected vistas on the contemporary history, politics, and economic development of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland and its international relations. Who were the key actors and networks? Where has the MPG paved the way for innovations? What were its successes and failures? How are its institutional structures connected to its scientific achievements? Does the MPG represent a Sonderweg in Germany?

Perceived in a self-reflexive perspective of historical epistemology, the MPG not only conducts research but becomes itself a field of research. Reflecting the massive investments in education and science in Western societies after the Sputnik crisis of 1957, historians of science are confronted with an exponential increase in information. Such big data requires innovative methodological approaches in the digital humanities to manage the vast complexity of research activities. The project is currently approaching this challenge with new tools and methods to cope with the complexity of big data by digitalizing numerous sources for full text research. In addition, bibliometric analysis will help to identify innovative research fields and the impact of MPG researchers in the sciences.

GMPG Logo Research Program for the History of the Max Planck Society

GMPG Website

For a detailed description of the research program visit the GMPG Website

Events and Workshops

Vortrag von Birgit Kolboske und Ulrike Thoms zum Thema „Equal Opportunities in the Max Planck Society. Education, Human Development and Gender Issues“ im Institutscolloquium (MPIWG, Berlin)

GMPG-Roundtable mit der Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) 
zum Thema: The History of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Max Planck Society in Comparative Perspective (MPIWG, Berlin)

06.- 08.09.2016    
Internationaler Workshop zur Geschichte der Astronomie und Astrophysik in der MPG (MPIWG, Berlin)

51. Deutscher Historiker-Tag 2016, Hamburg
Sektionssitzung unter dem Vorsitz von Jürgen Kocka zum Thema: Zeitgeschichte und Wissenschaftsgeschichte am Beispiel deutsch-israelischer Wissenschaftsbeziehungen von den 1950er bis in die 1980er Jahre (Jürgen Kocka, Jürgen Renn, Thomas Steinhauser, Gabriel Motzkin, Yvat Weiss, Ute Deichmann, Jenny Hestermann)

7th International Conference of the European Society for the History of Science, Prague
Vortragsthema von Florian Schmaltz:
"Scientific Changes in the Context of Political Regime Changes".
Transforming the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft into the Max Planck Gesellschaft : Continuities, discontinuites and the interdepencies of science and politics after the defeat of the Nazi regime

Internationaler Workshop zum Thema Kommerzialisierung: „From Knowledge to Profit? Scientific Institutions and the Commercialization of Science” (MPIWG, Berlin) Workshop Description