Allegory of the reconceptualization of knowledge in various fields as a consequence of the globalization of knowledge in the seventeenth century. Frontispiece of the Jesuit Heinrich Scherer's work on the four-fold crisis in geography, 1710. Original source owned by MPIWG Library.

Institute Research Structure

The three departments of the MPIWG approach questions of historical epistemology in different ways. The departments are organized neither along disciplinary lines nor according to historical periods. Their work encompasses numerous scientific disciplines and large historical timescales.

Department I, directed since 1994 by Jürgen Renn, focuses on structural changes in systems of knowledge and investigates long-term processes of change in scientific knowledge.

Department II, directed since 1995 by Lorraine Daston, investigates the history of the ideals and practices of rationality, including fundamental practices such as objectivity, observation, and data.

Department III, directed since 2013 by Dagmar Schäfer, deals with the history of artifacts, action, and knowledge.

Previously Department III, directed from 1997 to 2014 by Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, studied experimental systems and spaces of knowledge with a special emphasis on the history of the modern life sciences and the epistemology of experiments.

The Institute hosts several smaller, variously funded independent research groups, which are led by Alexander Blum, Jochen BüttnerElaine Leong, and Viktoria Tkaczyk. Their topics range from the history of physics to reading and writing nature in early modern Europe and the production of acoustic knowledge in the transition to the modern period. Various institutions, such as the Max Planck Society, the Volkswagen-Stiftung, and the German Research Fund (DFG), fund them. They are independent in their research programs. In 2016, Sabine Arnaud and Vincenzo De Risi completed their Research Groups; Sven Dupré and Veronika Lipphardt completed their Research Groups in 2015.

Since 2011, Glenn W. Most (Scuola Normale, Pisa, Italy; University of Chicago, USA) has served as the elected External Member of the MPIWG. Gerd Graßhoff (Humboldt University Berlin) has been a Max Planck Fellow at the Institute since April 2016, heading a Research Group on the evolution of textual transmissions and ancient geography.

The MPIWG is also advised and evaluated every two to three years by the Institute’s Advisory Board, which consists of leading international scholars in the history of science. The research units’ activities are supported by the Administration (headed by Claudia Paaß), by the Research Coordination (headed by Ohad Parnes), by the Library (headed by Esther Chen), by the Head of Cooperations and Communications (Hansjakob Ziemer), and by the Research IT Group and IT Support.