International Max Planck Research Schools are structured PhD programs offered by one or several Max Planck Institutes in cooperation with universities. They have become a well-established and successful model for the qualification of doctoral students from around the world and are recognized both nationally and internationally. Besides their close collaboration with universities and their internationality, all IMPRSs are characterized by excellent research conditions. For more information and an overview of all IMPRSs, please visit the website of the Max Planck Society.
For advanced and self-motivated postgraduates who have already completed or are about to complete a Master‘s program, the IMPRS offers an expedited route to a PhD degree. The timeline of 3.5 years from matriculation to dissertation submission gives IMPRS students the advantage of a faster track into positions that require a PhD qualification.
The successful applicants will receive funding via an employment contract with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG). This is a German public sector contract (monthly net salary of between €1,780 and €1,890), which will allow you to cover all the costs of living in Berlin. The initial funding period is 3.5 years, with the possibility of extending by a further six months once the dissertation has been submitted. This additional (“wrap-up”) period is intended to enable you to prepare your dissertation defense, prepare for job interviews, write a first article, etc. In addition to your monthly salary, you will have an annual research budget for material and travel expenses. Students with children will have access to the family services at the MPIWG (such as support for childcare) and to special career coaching.
The IMPRS-KIR investigates knowledge, its resources, and the multiple reciprocities between the two categories. Resources—from raw materials, artifacts, material objects, and instruments, to human skills, ideas, and practices, to personal networks and large-scale technological infrastructures—impact substantially upon the creation, maintenance, and advancement of knowledge. Knowledge, in turn, is necessary to define and unlock such resources, as well as being itself one of the key resources of human culture. Bringing together a wide range of individual projects, the School’s overall goal is to disentangle these relationships between knowledge and its resources from a long-term perspective.
The IMPRS-KIR takes present-day challenges as its starting point. Science is without question the dominant framework in today’s global knowledge society, yet it also faces unprecedented contestation as a form of knowing. Both internal and external critiques of its validity threaten to erode the accumulated foundations of the sciences. At the same time, concrete, local worldviews and cultures are setting out more ambitious expectations about managing the environment and securing our social, political, and economic stability. The IMPRS-KIR addresses these tensions by tracing historically the mechanisms that establish or diminish the authority of different bodies of knowledge. It does so by taking account of the fact that knowledges are plural, historically variable, and dependent on the resources by means of which they are maintained.
These mutual dependencies of knowledge and its resources have become strikingly apparent in current debates on climate change, artificial intelligence, and global health. Problem-solving in these fields builds upon a resource of large data sets, which can be neither produced nor exploited without expert knowledge. However, the evidence thus produced does not automatically translate into authoritative claims; science’s credibility is built on scrutiny, and depends on the coordination of intellectual, institutional, political, and state support.
Starting from these observations, the IMPRS-KIR traces the deep and contingent entanglements of knowledge and its resources from a long-term and global perspective that expressly affords an appreciation of local specificities. The School conceives of knowledge in the plural, as mutable processes always in the making. All knowledges are rife with potential, but also unstable and vulnerable. Their inventories are neither set in stone nor self-explanatory; nor is any kind of knowledge generated, preserved, and renewed of its own accord. Materials have to be unlocked, data coded, and infrastructures—from libraries to archives to server farms—built and maintained. Without such maintenance, knowledge cannot thrive. Examples of obstruction, obliteration, and the loss of knowledges abound: consider the gradual decline of the library of Alexandria; legal restrictions on the use of medicinal plants during Islamic Antiquity; the fading of nomadic dairying cultures in urbanizing Central Asia; or the fragility of public memories of past floods, plagues, or famines. Likewise, scientific experimenters, craftspeople, and traditional medical and ritual practitioners all marshal knowledges that are non-static. Each of these knowledges has its unique and changing history, and they compete in the arena of our contemporary world. Some parts of such histories manifest in materials and texts that are open to our analysis, while others have been suppressed or ignored.
All knowledge thus depends on material, social, political, and epistemic frameworks. Taking such frameworks as enabling yet contingent affordances, the IMPRS-KIR investigates the resources necessary to create, maintain, and foster knowledges. The School conceives of resources as relational phenomena, which depend on how they are defined by actors and used within political systems, economic infrastructures, and social interaction. Resources contain material potentials, but also potentials of bodily, social, and mental capacity. As such, they oscillate between different states, and may turn from sources of knowledge for some into resources of economic or political value for others. Moreover, resources function over particular periods of time and are tied to locality. The IMPRS-KIR program contends that diverse humans (including lay people, experts, and politicians of varied gender, ethnicity, and place of origin) define the dynamics of how resources are created, disregarded, or abandoned.
The IMPRS-KIR enables students to analyze the interdependencies of knowledge and its resources by exploring the materials that afford the production of particular kinds of knowledge in particular historical settings; to examine the practices deployed to create and activate knowledges from such resources; to ask how, and for whom, the knowledges thus produced become resources in and of themselves; and to scrutinize how and by whom the knowledges in question are legitimated, maintained, and changed through use and distribution over longer periods of time. Dissertation projects may also trace the structural affinities or hierarchies through which resources and knowledges relate to one another.
Addressing such issues, the projects should apply the method of historical-political epistemology, which assumes that all bodies of knowledge have a history and evolve in specific contexts, and that the criteria for what enables, safeguards, and legitimates knowledge systems are subject to validation processes that render them political. Three overarching and entangled research strands guide our methodological approach.
Material Resources of Knowledge
Knowledge is not free of preconditions. It always has a physical component that limits its working reach, whether contained in our bodies, as skills, capabilities, and practices; in the material objects from which such knowledge is derived and has to be reclaimed; or in seemingly immaterial concepts and theories stored in writing, numbers, books, or data reliant on virtual infrastructures and technologies. Knowledge thus depends on the resources that define what is known. This strand will focus on the concepts, conditions, and material requirements of knowledge production and maintenance within and across different times, cultures, and spaces. Attention will be given to the vulnerability of knowledge, its dependence on extrapolation, solidarity, memory, and practices of preservation. Of particular importance for this strand is a critical and historically grounded reflection on the ongoing transformation of analog, seemingly material-based knowledge into digital resources.
Resource Economics of Knowledge
To unfold its potency, knowledge needs to be shared. This general assertion does not deny hierarchies of knowers: allowing and withholding access to certain knowledges is a crucial element of social and political power structures. This strand strives to ascertain how such power and authority manifest historically in relation to material, economic, and intellectual environments of knowledge formation. It recognizes that not all people have access to knowledge, and that not all knowledge can gain authority. This prompts consideration of how media and communication share, distribute, or constrain knowledge. Power constellations, validation schemes, and infrastructures can stabilize or destabilize any one knowledge inventory as choices are made or imposed by others. Dependencies also change as shared knowledges move through networks of historical actors. Class, gender, race, and ethnicity come into play by forging alliances and hierarchies within and across localized and elite knowledges. This strand of research may be highlighted by projects that map out varying constellations of normative, socioeconomic, and political structures in order to explore under what conditions, and with what political implications, particular forms of knowledge have arisen, flourished, or decayed. Such projects may also contribute to awareness of how the history of knowledge and its resources can be rendered meaningful to present-day knowledge cultures.
Long-Term Developments and Global Aspects of Knowledge
Resources are potentials that cannot be activated without knowledge. Technologies to exploit materials, along with human beings’ bodily, mental, and social capacities to apply them, have developed over centuries and are bound to specific regions, cultures, and traditions. The IMPRS-KIR will contribute to tracing these historical developments and their contingencies on a global scale. As well as investigating material objects, the School will ask how knowledge practices, techniques, and skills have developed into resources over long periods of time and explore materials, intellectual traditions, concepts, and bodies of knowledge as resources. Dissertation projects may study the richness of specific knowledge cultures and cosmologies in vastly different contexts and periods, bringing to light the plurality of knowledges in their own right. They may also address the tensions between local worldviews and broader, cross-cultural conventions to uncover the dynamics of how some knowledges are consolidated and become hegemonic terms of reference, while others are disregarded or abandoned. Within this line of questioning, the IMPRS-KIR will enable a strong emphasis on historiographic reflection, in order to encourage the versatility that is central to work in historical epistemology.
Taken together, these three strands will clear new terrain for the history of knowledge. Based on critical, reflexive methodology, the School will advance inclusive views of the world that require the dynamic boundaries between knowledge and science to be rethought. The IMPRS-KIR encourages dissertation proposals that accentuate local practices and ways of knowing in different settings around the globe, with the aim of pushing the field further towards a global and environmental history of knowledge with inherent relevance to present-day challenges.
The IMPRS-KIR offers an interdisciplinary graduate curriculum in the history of knowledge. The thriving field of history of knowledge has developed multiple strands across many historical disciplines in recent decades, but has yet to be underpinned by a sustainable methodological framework. The School’s curriculum addresses this critical gap. Through the notion of “resources,” it offers a framework to bring the divergent historiographies of knowledge into structured dialogue, thus opening up new avenues of research.
During your first year in Berlin, you will be introduced to the School’s fundamental concepts and receive training in the methods of historical and political epistemology. The seminars, along with reading groups with your IMPRS peers, will also introduce you to pivotal works in the various fields of the history of knowledge and help you to write an extended draft of your proposal by the end of the first year.
The second year is dedicated to archival research, which may take place away from Berlin. You will keep in contact with your principal supervisor as well as your fellow students. It is also possible to spend one semester of the IMPRS-KIR program as a visiting student at one of our partner universities abroad (University of Pennsylvania, Nanyang Technological University Singapore, Singapore University of Technology and Design).
You are expected to spend your third (and fourth) year, the write-up phase, in Berlin. Close contact with your supervisors, writing and feedback groups, and presentations at the research colloquia will offer constructive criticism and help you finalize chapters.
Throughout the program, you will have the opportunity to attend master classes taught by colleagues from the IMPRS-KIR partner institutions and guests from other universities. Depending on your needs, you will be able to attend language courses and training in digital humanities methods. A tailored coaching program will support you during the different phases of your research, as well as during your transition to the postdoc job market.
The Principal Teaching Faculty (PTF) is the governing body of the IMPRS-KIR, overseeing its research program and curriculum and selecting its student body. The PTF consists of nine professors from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), Freie Universität Berlin (FU), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), and Technische Universität Berlin (TU), and is supported by postdoctoral and senior researchers based at the MPIWG. The members of the PTF come from seven different departments
Prof. Dr. Karin Gludovatz
Art History Department (FU)
Visual arts of the late medieval and early modern period; materiality, mediality and topology of the codex; forms, functions and theories of the marginal (in images); art in colonial contexts/art and colonial knowledge
Prof. Dr. Anke te Heesen
History Department (HU)
History of the human sciences; forms and practices of organization and notation of scientific knowledge; science and education; museum and exhibition studies
Prof. Dr. J. Cale Johnson
Institute for Wissensgeschichte des Altertums (FU)
Babylonian medicine; proto-cuneiform script and the origin of writing; Sumerian literature and grammar; diacritical feasts and economic history; Near Eastern legal history
Prof. Dr. Christine von Oertzen
Research Group “Data, Media, Mind” (MPIWG); Department of Media Studies (HU)
Gender relations in science; history of the human sciences; material culture of collecting, processing, and visualizing data; epistemologies and practices of data compilation; history of bureaucratic knowledge formation
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Renn
Department “Structural Changes in Systems of Knowledge” (MPIWG)
Long-term developments in knowledge; the Anthropocene; history of mechanics; history of modern physics
Prof. Dr. Dagmar Schäfer
Department “Artifacts, Action, Knowledge” (MPIWG)
History and sociology of technology in China; premodern history of China (Song-Ming); technology and materiality of knowledge systems; historical dynamics of concept formation
Prof. Dr. Friedrich Steinle
Institute of History and Philosophy of Science, Technology, and Literature (TU)
History and philosophy of experimentation and concept formation; history of color knowledge and research; history of electricity and magnetism; interaction of history of science and philosophy of science
Prof. Dr. Viktoria Tkaczyk
Department of Media Studies (HU)
Technologies and knowledge techniques in the sciences and humanities; sound and science; history of the applied sciences and humanities; history of natural resources of media
Prof. Dr. Heike Weber
Institute of History and Philosophy of Science, Technology, and Literature (TU)
Intersections of consumption history, environmental history, history of technology, and gender history; 20th-century everyday technologies; material culture; media and mobility history
We cordially invite students interested in the new School to attend this winter semester’s lecture series organized by PTF members from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Technische Universität Berlin. It offers an insight into the wide range of topics represented by the PTF.
Each student will have a Thesis Advisory Committee consisting of a primary supervisor, who is a member of the Principal Teaching Faculty (PTF), and a secondary supervisor, who may or may not be member of the PTF. You will be assigned to your primary supervisor; the secondary supervisor will be chosen in agreement with you. In exceptional cases and for thematic reasons, the PTF can decide to appoint external primary supervisors. Supplementary external advisers may be appointed whenever it is deemed appropriate.
Students of the IMPRS-KIR will obtain their PhD degree from one of the collaborating university departments and will have to fulfill the requirements as laid out in the doctoral and examination regulations of that department. The IMPRS staff will assist each student appointed in complying with the requirements. The PhD diploma will be complemented by an IMPRS certificate of the Max Planck Society.
In this case, you need to submit proof of the finishing date of your Master’s degree, certified by your university. In order to be admitted to the IMPRS-KIR, you must have obtained your Master’s degree by May 31, 2022.
You should have an official English language certificate, preferably at level C1, but at least at level B2 (Cambridge English, IELTS, TOEFL, CELPIP, TOEIC, or similar). If English is your native language or if you went to a university where the language of instruction was English, you do not need to submit an English certificate.
We accept English certificates of the abovementioned levels also in case their official validity period has expired.
The IMPRS-KIR will fund a total of 15 doctoral positions. After the 5 positions to start in fall 2022, a second and third cohort of 5 students each will start in fall 2023 and in fall 2024, each for a duration of up to 4 years. The application procedure will open one year in advance and will be publicly announced.
Our Principal Teaching Faculty and staff will carefully review the submitted documents. All shortlisted candidates will be invited to interview with the PTF. The interviews will take place on April 7, 2022.
Acceptance notiﬁcations will be sent in April 2022. The program starts on September 1, 2022. The IMPRS office will offer advice and support in preparing your stay in Berlin, including visa issues, insurance, and accommodation.