Department II ran from 1994 until 2019 and studied the history of scientific reason. Its topics were 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 addressed the division between the “natural” and “human” realms (Between the Natural and Human Sciences), and “gender” (Gender Studies of Science). One of the main projects (Sciences of the Archive) examined 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 had a comparative dimension, spanning many centuries, several cultures, and/or multiple disciplines (Science in Circulation). A project on Science and Modernity asked about the relationship between modern science and other aspects of modernity, such as industrialization, democratization, or secularization, from a global perspective.
The Department II Doctoral Seminar occurs twice per month and serves as a space for early career researchers from across the Institute to discuss their work in a formal, friendly setting.
The Department II Colloquium occurs twice per month. The format is 30 minutes of commentary and response by the paper's author, followed by 90 minutes of general discussion.