The work of Department I is dedicated to understanding the historical processes of structural changes in systems of knowledge. This goal comprises the reconstruction of central cognitive structures of scientific thinking, the study of the dependence of these structures on their experiential basis and on their cultural conditions, and the study of the interaction between individual thinking and institutionalized systems of knowledge. This theoretical program of an historical epistemology is the common core of the different investigations and research projects pursued and planned by the department.
Department I understands its research program of a historical epistemology as contributing to an evolutionary history of knowledge but also to the reflectivity of present science and its institutions. The emphasis lies on macro-studies in order to enable the identification of large-scale structures of knowledge development in social, technological, and cultural contexts. Approaches, methods, and objects of inquiry are taken from a large array of disciplines, ranging from the history and philosophy of science, technology and art, via the cognitive sciences and linguistics, to archeology, Middle Eastern studies, classics, sinology, indology, sociology, to physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and other natural sciences.