Department I (Director: Jürgen Renn)

The work of the research group headed by Jürgen Renn is mainly 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 research group.

In order to cover at least some of the major developmental steps in the history of science, research is pursued in four different areas: the emergence of formal sciences such as mathematics; the emergence of empirical sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology; structural changes in sciences with developed disciplinary structures and integrated theoretical foundations, such as the transition from classical to modern physics; and the role of reflective thinking and second-order concepts in science.

Ballistic practices: Section of a bas-relief from the Palace of Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.) depicting the siege of the city of Lachish

Present research in these areas focuses on two central projects: (1) the relation of practical experience and conceptual structures in the emergence of science, and (2) studies in the integration and disintegration of knowledge in modern science. The first project seeks to understand the emergence of fundamental concepts of empirical science arising from the reflection of practical experiences, prior to the period in which experiments became the dominating experiential basis of science. The second project studies transformation processes of knowledge organization, in particular in developed sciences, and the role of fundamental concepts, both of the first and the second order, in such processes. A further area of work is dedicated to developing advanced tools for an historical epistemology. In this area, new electronic media are used for exploring innovative ways of creating access to the empirical basis of the history of science.

During the period covered by this research report, the work on these projects has been restructured in order to achieve greater compactness and coordination of the ongoing research activities. Work has been mainly focused on the first project, whose initial, explorative phase has been largely concluded. Several books have been completed dealing with essential historical and cultural aspects covered by the project and its associated research activities, ranging from the early development of mathematical thinking in ancient Mesopotamia, via administration in the Inca culture, the relation between technical and scientific knowledge in Roman antiquity, the transmission and transformation of knowledge in the Arab and Latin middle ages, and on science and technology in the early modern period. These achievements were possible despite the difficulties that arose when two collaborators left the department to either take up a more permanent position (Paul Weinig), or to become part of the Institute’s newly created scientific information management pilot project (Dirk Wintergrün).

Origins of ballistic theory: Attempt to adapt the construction of projectile trajectories to the knowledge of the artillerists. Taken from a book on artillery by Diego Ufano (1628)

The second project, representing an assembly of diverse endeavors, has in part been brought to a close. In particular, major works on the philosophical integration of classical science, on the concept of the gene in development and evolution, and on the genesis of relativity, have been concluded and are now published or in press. Efforts in the last two years have been concentrated either on completing the final publications or on further documenting the outcome of these endeavors. For the rest, the project is being refocused so as to constitute a close fit with the first project. On the one hand, it is planned to address the period between the establishment of classical science and the conceptual revolutions of modern science using more extensively the methodological instrumentarium developed in the context of the first project. On the other hand, preparations are being undertaken in order to extend the reconstruction of the conceptual revolution of modern physics, pursued in the case of relativity theory, also to the case of the quantum theory with the aim to similarly trace its roots in the developments of classical science.

ballistic motion as a mental model: The gravitational lensing in Einstein’s Prague Notebook from 1912 - trajectories of light rays deflected by the gravitational field of a star

A major grant received from the US National Science Foundation and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft has made it possible to address the historical reconstruction of mechanical knowledge, central to the first project, in a much more systematic way than was previously possible and to realize the ambitious plan of the Archimedes Project, prepared as part of the work of the department on developing electronic research tools and databases. The aim of the Archimedes project is to create an open digital research library in order to make a substantial part of the entire corpus of sources accessible that provide information about the development of mechanical knowledge. Efforts have therefore been concentrated on integrating the scholarly work pursued within the first project with the realization of the Archimedes Project. In particular, a “production line” has been designed and implemented for digitizing printed texts and other source materials and for structuring the outcome according to the scholarly analysis of their content. At the same time, a theoretical framework for exploring mental models in the history of mechanics has been further elaborated as a guidance for the systematic study of the historical sources.

Apart from this strengthening of both the empirical and the theoretical basis of the first project, the last two years have also seen substantial new dimensions introduced to the research being pursued under its auspices. Field work on intuitive physics and practical mechanical knowledge undertaken in different locations such as the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea and a traditional shipyard in Venice, Italy, has now enhanced the possibility to study the dependence of such knowledge, constituting the bedrock of any scientific knowledge, on its cultural context. The creation of a partner group of the Institute in China has offered a tremendous opportunity to study the equally important question to which extent independent developments of scientific knowledge have been realized in the course of history. The partner group was established mid-2001 at the Institute for the History of Natural Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Its main object is the reconstruction of the long-range development of mechanical thinking in China and the study of the interaction between western scientific knowledge and that of the Chinese tradition. The issue of intercultural comparisons was also at the center of the third International Laboratory for the History of Science, held in the summer of 2000 at the Institute and dedicated to the material culture of calculation in different civilizations.

A special grant recently issued by the Max Planck Society in the context of an effort to encourage cooperations between different Max Planck Institutes has made it possible to take up the implementation of a new interdisciplinary initiative announced in the previous report. This initiative, complementary to the study of the relation between practical experience and conceptual structures in mechanics, is dedicated to an epistemic history of architecture and undertaken jointly with the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Max Planck Institute for the History of Art) in Rome. It aims at documenting and analyzing the long-term history of the unwritten knowledge that has made the great architectural achievements of mankind possible. This knowledge emerged long before the advent of science and was repeatedly subjected to transformations which explain the fascinating interplay of utility, rationality, and art that is the hallmark of architecture.

Another recent grant from the Government of the Autonomous Region of the Canary Islands is dedicated to a joint project with the Fundación Canaria Orotava de Historia de la Ciencia, with the aim to document the scientific expeditions to the Canary Islands in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Proyecto Humboldt: Juan Martinez Jaen, Jürgen Renn, Markus Schnöpf, Urs Schoepflin).

All central research activities of the department draw heavily on the potential offered by the new media and hence require new forms of integrating scholarly with technical competence. The reliance on access to large corpora of sources also requires strategic alliances with holders of sources such as libraries and archives. The NSF-supported Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, a pioneering endeavor launched by the Institute together with the University of California at Los Angeles, has therefore not only introduced advanced techniques of electronic information management into scholarly work but has also created an international network of research institutions, universities, and museums with the aim to virtually rejoin and analyze cuneiform archives now scattered in numerous museum collections. Such projects are part of a fundamental restructuring of scholarly work in the humanities and demand flexible structures of research, innovative institutional infrastructures, and also the support of creative science policies in overcoming the resistance of traditional working modes.

The experiences of pioneering ventures such as the Archimedes Project and the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative - undertaken in the context of the scholarly work of the department - have provided the background for the creation of novel support structures for research information management at various institutional levels, ranging from a newly installed information management pilot project at the Institute, via the recently founded Heinz Nixdorf Center for Information Management (CIM) of the Max Planck Society, to the launching of an initiative for bringing European cultural heritage online. This “ECHO initiative” has been presented at a workshop organized by the European Commission within the Fifth Framework Program jointly with the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, and the Bibliotheca Hertziana, a Max Planck Institute in Rome. It has meanwhile been approved. A parallel venture to this initiative is presently under consideration by the Mexican government. The role of the new media for the reorganization of the scientific information flow as well as other fundamental challenges to future science policy have been also the subject of an international Ringberg Colloquium on “Innovative Structures in Basic Research” held in fall 2001 and co-organized by members of the department on behalf of the President of the Max Planck Society.

Department 1 (from left to right): (back row) Suman Seth, Falk Wunderlich, Lindy Divarci, Juan Martinez Jaen, Jürgen Renn, Jochen Büttner, Beatriz Pèrez, Simone Rieger, Markus Schnöpf, Katja Bödeker, Dieter Hoffmann, Volkmar Schüller, Peter Damerow, Peter McLaughlin, (front row) Petra Schröter, Matteo Valleriani, Terry Shinn with Jenny, Peter Beurton, Matthias Schemmel, Markus Popplow, Giuseppe Castagnetti
Project 1: The Relation of Practical Experience and Conceptual Structures in the Emergence of Science: Mental Models in the History of Mechanics
General Goals of the Project

The goal of the project is to study the causes and long-term developments of scientific knowledge. The project is focused on mechanics as a part of science with an extraordinary significance for the development of science in general. In particular, more than other disciplines, mechanics has a continuous tradition from its origins in antiquity to the elimination of fundamental categories of mechanics by modern physics. Presently, the scope of the project is restricted to the time period from antiquity to the emergence of classical mechanics in early modern times. It is, however, intended to follow up the research questions of the project to the twentieth century.

The peculiar longevity of mechanics has given rise to speculations that the experiential basis of such scientific knowledge must be of a special kind, distinct from that of other sciences which emerged much later. It has been claimed, for instance, that knowledge in mechanics or in mathematics is rooted in an essentially universal everyday experience or even based on a priori structures of thinking. These and other speculations involve a very restrictive notion of experience, however. They exclude the by no means universal experience that human beings acquire in a historically specific material environment when dealing, for example, with the technology of their times. Therefore, the project is particularly focused on the historical reconstruction of such collective, practical experiences and their influences on the structure and content of scientific knowledge. Its main goal is to study the role of practical experience for the emergence and development of fundamental scientific concepts of mechanics, such as those of space, matter, force, time, and motion, and to reconstruct the patterns of explanation they were used for.

An analysis of the relation between the various layers of knowledge and their development requires an appropriate description of their architecture. Evidently, formal logic is of little help here. In contrast to the inferences of formal logic, scientific conclusions can be corrected. Not only scientific knowledge but in fact large domains of human experience are not simply lost when theories are revised, even if this knowledge does not explicitly appear in such theories. In our description of the architecture of scientific knowledge we therefore make use of concepts from default logic such as the concept of a mental model, adapting them to an account of the historical development of the shared knowledge at the basis of science. We conceive of mental models as knowledge representation structures based on default logic which allow for drawing inferences from prior experiences about complex objects and processes even when only incomplete information on them is available. Mental models relevant to the history of mechanics either belong to generally shared knowledge or to the shared knowledge of specific groups. Accordingly, they can be related either to intuitive, to practical, or to theoretical knowledge. They are, in any case, characterized by a remarkable longevity even across historical breaks, as becomes clear when considering such examples as the mental models of an atom, of a balance, of the center of gravity, or of positional weight. Their persistence in shaping the shared knowledge documented by the historical sources becomes particularly apparent in the consistency of the terminology used, a consistency that offers one important element for an empirical control for the reconstruction of such mental models and their historical development.

The project traces the basic mental models of mechanical knowledge and their development across a large historical time span which may be divided into the following six major periods, the first four of which are presently in the focus of the ongoing research. The first period may simply be called the “prehistory of mechanics”; it comprises the long period of time in which human cultures have accumulated practical mechanical knowledge without documenting this knowledge in written form and without developing theories about this knowledge. The second period is that which properly merits the label “the origin of mechanics.” It is characterized by the appearance of the first written treatises dedicated to mechanics and to physics, associated in particular with names such as Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, and Heron. The third period is, in its beginning, characterized by the transformation of mechanics into a “science of balances and weights.” This period covers the Arab and Latin Middle Ages which saw the production of an extensive mechanical literature focused, however, on a relatively small range of subjects. The fourth period is that of preclassical mechanics, ranging from the sketches of Renaissance engineers such as Leonardo da Vinci to the mature works of Galileo Galilei. In contrast to the preceding period it deals with an increasingly large number of subjects, among them the inclined plane, the pendulum, the stability of matter, the spring, etc. The fifth period is that of the “rise of a mechanical world view.” It extends from the first comprehensive visions of a mechanical cosmos such as that of Descartes, via the establishment of classical and later analytical mechanics, to the attempts of nineteenth century scientists to build physics on an entirely mechanical basis. The sixth period is that of the decline of the mechanical world view and the disintegration of mechanics at the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, associated with the emergence of modern physics and its conceptual revolutions represented by the relativity and quantum theories.

Completed Research Activities
The origin of science in administration:

One of the most surprising results of research undertaken during the last twenty years on the origins of probably the earliest “science” of the world, that is “Babylonian Mathematics,” is the insight that this science did not emerge from technical experiences or astronomy as is often alleged, but from administration. A publication with contributions on several aspects of the development of Babylonian Mathematics in the third millennium B.C. documents this new perspective (Changing Views on Ancient Near Eastern Mathematics, edited by Peter Damerow, Jens Høyrup, including contributions by Peter Damerow, Robert K. Englund, Jens Høyrup).

Photo of a surveying document from the Third Dynasty of Ur [end of third millennium BC] showing obverse and edges with drawing of a fieldplan

Just as in Babylonia, the challenges of administration in the Inca Empire proved to be a driving force for the development of quantitative thinking in close connection with the elaboration of sophisticated representational systems such as the script in the Babylonian context and the quipus in the Inca context. A large part of the historical and ethnographic evidence serving now as the starting point for reconstructions of the meaning and usage of the quipus was collected in the nineteenth century by archeologists and ethnographers such as Max Uhle (1856-1944) and Adolf Bastian (1826-1905). A major study of the personal notebooks of Max Uhle and his correspondence with Adolf Bastian, both of which are unpublished, has now been completed (Itinerarios de Max Uhle en el altiplano: orìgenes de la historia cultural alemana aplicada a los Andes (1893-1896), Carmen Loza).

Science and technology in antiquity:

The reconstruction of the technical and scientific knowledge underlying the great achievements of an ancient civilization is the subject of another recently completed book publication (Homo Faber: Studies on Nature, Technology, and Science at the Time of Pompeii, Giuseppe Castagnetti, Jürgen Renn). The volume not only deals with the practical knowledge involved in some of the technical accomplishments visible in Pompeii, but also with the relation between such practical knowledge and ancient science, covering a wide array of fields including astronomy, medicine, optics, and mechanics.

A video documentation of field work on ancient artisanal knowledge related to the law of the lever and embodied in traditional practices of producing steelyards in Italy and China has been completed (Jürgen Renn, Simone Rieger, Richard Röseler, Matthias Schemmel, Zhang Baichun).

The transformation of science in the Middle Ages:

The two major transmission processes of the Middle Ages, the transmission of scientific literature from the ancient Greek to the Arabic world culminating in the eighth and ninth centuries and the subsequent transmission from the Arabic to the Latin world culminating in the twelfth century, are often seen as merely preserving the heritage of antiquity to the age of the Scientific Revolution. These transmission processes also constituted, however, a profound transformation of scientific knowledge, affecting its social as well as its cognitive dimensions. A volume that brings together a number of case studies has been published with the intention to help prepare a comprehensive picture of this transformation (Intercultural Transmission of Scientific Knowledge in the Middle Ages: Graeco-Arabic-Latin, Mohammed Abattouy, Jürgen Renn, Paul Weinig).

Early modern science in context:

Several book publications have been completed in the area of early modern science, beginning with the second, revised edition of Exploring the Limits of Preclassical Mechanics (Peter Damerow, Gideon Freudenthal, Peter McLaughlin, Jürgen Renn).

Another book publication is dedicated to the role of visual representations in the early modern period (The Power of Images in Early Modern Science, Wolfgang Lefèvre, Jürgen Renn, Urs Schoepflin). It brings together historical case studies from various fields and discusses epistemological questions such as the role of images as mediatory instances between practical and theoretical knowledge, the interaction between images and texts, and the potential of images to synthesize fragments of knowledge to a global picture.

The intellectual, cultural, and social contexts that shaped Galileo’s science are the subject of a further edited volume (Galileo in Context, Jürgen Renn). It focuses, in particular, on three such contexts; the context of the engineer-scientists which provided Galileo’s physics with much of its experiential basis; the closely related context of artists which provided him not only with a model for his career as a courtier but also with techniques of visual representation; and the context of contemporary power structures.

An additional volume focusing on Galileo has been published under the auspices of the Fundación Canaria Orotava de Historia de la Ciencia with substantial participation of members of the department (Largo Campo Di Filosofare: Eurosymposium Galileo 2001, José Montesinos ed., including contributions by Jochen Büttner, Peter Damerow, Jürgen Renn, Matthias Schemmel, and Matteo Valleriani). This provides a comprehensive survey of present Galileo studies.

Important manuscripts by Isaac Newton written at the beginning of the 1690s with the intention of adding them to a new edition of the Principia were found on the estate of the Scottish mathematician David Gregory. These have been translated from the Latin and commented on in detail by Volkmar Schüller, who also completed a study on Samuel Clarke’s Newtonian annotations to Jacques Rohault’s Traité de physique , a widely spread introduction to Cartesian physics.

Perspectives on the research process and its cognitive dimensions:

Two volumes have been completed on more general topics of historical epistemology, one dealing with the role of notebooks as records of the research process (Reworking the Bench: Laboratory Notebooks in the History of Science, Frederic L. Holmes, Jürgen Renn, and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger), the other presenting a commented collection of classical essays on scientific creativity by Howard Gruber (Creativity, Psychology and the History of Science, Katja Bödeker, Howard Gruber).

Current Research Activities
Intuitive mechanics:

Mechanical knowledge significantly predates any systematic theoretical treatment of mechanics. The most basic knowledge presupposed by mechanics is based on experiences acquired almost universally in any culture by human activities. It includes the perception of material bodies and their relative permanence, their impenetrability, their mechanical qualities, and their physical behavior. The outcome is an “intuitive mechanical knowledge” embedded in a qualitative physics, which is built up in ontogenesis and guides human activities related to our physical environment.

A survey of the relevant research on intuitive physics and its development in psychology, anthropology and artificial intelligence, performed in the context of a dissertation project (Katja Bödeker), has been completed. In view of the lack of sufficient empirical evidence on the universal character of intuitive physics, the project has been extended to include field research both in Germany and on the Trobriand Islands. As a first step, a study with German school children was conducted with the aim to analyze the ontogenetic development of intuitive conceptions of force, motion, weight, and density. In order to examine which aspects of intuitive physical thinking and its development belong to universal cognitive structures, a parallel investigation was carried out in Kiriwina (Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea). The same tasks given to the German school children were presented to Trobriand children and adults. To control for possible influences of schooling, two groups were studied; the first group consisting of children attending the Catholic mission school in Gusaweta, and the second group consisting of illiterate adults and children living in a remote Trobriand village (Iuwada). The evaluation of the extensive documentary material collected during the expedition is currently in progress.

Katja Bödeker in Papua New Guinea with Trobriand children Tobriand children balancing on a see-saw
Professional knowledge of practitioners:

A second kind of mechanical knowledge which predates any systematic theoretical treatment of mechanics is the knowledge achieved by the use of mechanical tools. In contrast to intuitive mechanical knowledge, this type of knowledge is closely linked to the production and use of tools by professionalized groups of people and it consequently develops in history. The professional knowledge of practitioners is historically transmitted by immediate participation in practices such as the processes of labor and production in which such tools are applied and by the oral explanation that accompanies their application. Research on professional knowledge related to mechanics has been continued with a focus on the knowledge of artisans and engineers in the early modern period.

In the study of the tradition of engineering knowledge particular attention is paid to forms of representation that are not predominantly shaped by the theoretical tradition such as drawings and models (Wolfgang Lefèvre, David McGee, Marcus Popplow). To facilitate the study of contemporary engineering drawings and to enable systematic comparisons of the wealth of information contained in these drawings, an analytical database has been developed, allowing for a standardized description of the images, opening up the possibility of systematized comparisons as is customary for texts or quantitative data. In sequel to a presentation at the HSS conference in Vancouver in 2000, an international workshop addressing the question of the meaning and function of engineering drawings took place at the Institute in summer 2001; a collection of contributions to this workshop has appeared as preprint 193 of the Institute.

On the borderline between practical and theoretical mechanics: Geometrical analysis of the simple machines and their practical applications (Mögling 1629)

A volume on the use, function, and consequences that engineering and architectural drawings had for Renaissance engineering is presently being prepared (Wolfgang Lefèvre). A further workshop was dedicated to the emergence of linear perspective as an example of the encounter between bodies of practical and theoretical knowledge in the early modern period, an encounter that also drove the development of ballistic knowledge, another subject on which research proceeded (Jochen Büttner, Peter Damerow, Jürgen Renn, Matthias Schemmel). A related research activity was dedicated to the systematic analysis of table-sized models of machines in the fifteenth and sixteenth century; a first publication surveying the employment of such small-scale models in the early modern period is being prepared (Marcus Popplow). A general review of the development of engineering and machines in the early modern period, including their impact on science, is also in preparation (Marcus Popplow, Jürgen Renn).

In the early modern period, the increased significance and advancement of technology confronted the traditional body of mechanical knowledge with “challenging objects,” such as the trajectory of projectiles, the stability of constructions, the oscillation of a swinging body, or the curve of a hanging chain. As becomes clear from the outstanding example of Galileo’s Two New Sciences, these objects enriched the traditional knowledge but also induced fundamental revisions of its structure, eventually leading to classical mechanics. A dissertation project dedicated to Galileo’s activities as an engineer-scientist (Matteo Valleriani) investigates conditions of this change and also sheds new light on hitherto neglected contexts of his writings. It has turned out that the topics of the private lessons he gave during his stay in the Venetian Republic actually represent typical structures of the professional knowledge of practitioners. In fact, the various steps of his general course on fortifications are comparable to the practically-oriented sixteenth-century treatises and courses on this subject at the time.

A Trobriand “masawa” canoe

The professional knowledge employed in shipbuilding became a particular focus of research with contributions covering vastly different cultures and periods. Field research was dedicated to the construction of sea-faring canoes (masawa) on the Trobriand islands, making it not only possible to reconstruct the physical knowledge underlying the building process but also to analyze the acquisition and social distribution of technological knowledge in a preliterate society (Katja Bödeker).

Matteo Valleriani (right) with master gondola-makers in Venice

Other field research was dedicated to contemporary navigation practices in Fiji, the United States, and Tunisia with the aim to study the merging of modern and traditional forms of navigation (Jarita Holbrook). Shipbuilding problems of the early modern period as they were encountered in the Venetian Arsenal (documented by sources held in the Venetian State Archive) turned out to confront contemporary science with a most consequential “challenging object,” the stability behavior of matter under scaling. In fact, the attempt to construct ever larger galleys revealed the non-linear character of this behavior, a challenge that evidently stimulated the emergence of Galileo’s second new science, dealing with the strength of materials (Jürgen Renn, Matteo Valleriani).

The reconstruction of the practical knowledge underlying early modern shipbuilding techniques could also profit from field research performed in a traditional Venetian “squero” where shipwrights still employ traditional instruments and techniques. Documents in the Venetian State Archive provided not only the basis for reconstructing the emergence of the mental model at the core of Galileo’s theory in the professional knowledge of the foremen of the Venetian Arsenal. Since these documents also allow for more general insights into the social processes by which, in the early modern period, practical knowledge was accumulated, advanced, and brought into contact with the available resources of theoretical knowledge, a more extensive collaboration with the Venetian State Archive has been taken up with the aim to make all relevant sources freely accessible on the Internet. An international workshop on the interrelations of shipbuilding practice, design methods, and scientific knowledge from the Renaissance to the mid-eighteenth century was held in fall 2001 ( Of particular interest were the relations between the development of mathematical methods to deal with hydromechanical problems and the stability and design of ships on the one hand, and practical experiences made during construction in the shipyards as well as the maneuvering of ships and boats on the other. Members and associates of the department presented in particular research results on the role of the work of Euler and Bouguer as important examples for the mathematization of physical knowledge in terms of rational mechanics; on the general treatment of hydromechanical problems in the mechanical literature starting with Archimedes; and on the practical knowledge accumulated and followed in the shipyards of the Venetian Arsenal (Horst Nowacki, Matteo Valleriani, Dirk Wintergrün).

Mechanical technology before the emergence of theoretical mechanics depicted on a relief in the palace of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (704- 681 B.C.) at Niniveh
Origins of theoretical mechanics:

Sources documenting early forms of mechanical knowledge and in particular ancient Greek and Latin texts on mechanics are being analyzed in order to reconstruct the emergence and developments of the first scientific representations of mechanical knowledge and the relation to intuitive knowledge and the professional mechanical knowledge of practitioners (Peter Damerow, Brian Fuchs, Peter McLaughlin, Marcus Popplow, Jürgen Renn).

First, it is determined what contents of mechanics are represented and how these contents are conceptualized by technical terms. These contents are compared with the technological knowledge of the time. Second, the formal structures of the representations are analyzed and cognitive operations are identified which structure the mechanical knowledge. In addition to the ancient Greek and Latin sources, this investigation also includes Arabic and Chinese sources. Work on these sources now proceeds in conjunction with the DFG and NSF supported Archimedes Project (see development, )

A special study has been dedicated to what probably represents the first text of theoretical mechanics, the Mechanical Problems, up to the nineteenth century traditionally ascribed to Aristotle. The results of a philological comparison of the standard Byzantine text with the oldest extant version - an incomplete Arabic text usually considered as an epitome - suggest that this attribution is, in fact, for an essential part of the text correct, despite the meanwhile accepted attribution to an unknown Aristotelean “Pseudo-Aristotle” (Markus Asper, István Bodnár, Peter Damerow, Brian Fuchs, Elke Kazemi, Peter McLaughlin, Jürgen Renn, Paul Weinig).

The Mechanical Problems indeed consist essentially, apart from a somewhat involved proof in the beginning, of thirty five questions and their answers, most of which follow precisely the same pattern of argument. The joint work on the text has led to several novel insights into its structure and history. A careful analysis of the argumentative structure and the terminology used has, first of all, made it possible to interpret the syllogistic scheme underlying the treatment of typical problems as the application of a specific mental model which we have called the “balance-lever model.” It emerged, as has been shown by earlier research, as a consequence of the invention of the balance with unequal arms and serves to explain how it is possible that a force can produce an effect greater than its natural one by applying a mechanical device, in contrast to the strict proportionality between force and effect suggested by the motion-implies-force model of intuitive physics underlying Aristotelian dynamics. Second, the reconstruction of the argumentative scheme of the text, together with a line-by-line comparison with a fragment of the beginning of the text without the somewhat involved proof that has been preserved in the Arabic tradition, suggests the possibility that the introductory proof as well as other less coherent parts of the ancient Greek texts are actually later insertions and not part of the original. Third, supported by these philological findings, a number of far-reaching historical conclusions became possible: a core text with a coherent argumentative structure could be reestablished to which the reasons for denying Aristotle’s authorship, brought forward by nineteenth century philologists, no longer apply, and, finally, the formulation of the law of the lever in the ancient Greek text can now also be identified as a likely candidate for a later insertion, a finding that fits well with earlier results on the role of the invention of the balance with unequal arms as representing the presupposition rather than a consequence of its formulation.

The question of independent developments of knowledge - the case of China:

The question of whether cultural achievements such as writing or science have originated only once in history or whether they have multiple origins has often been speculated upon and is only rarely as systematically analyzed as, for example, the structurally similar question of the single or multiple origin of the human species. The default assumption in the case of writing favors a multiple origin, while science is still widely considered a human enterprise that, while having received contributions over time from various cultures, has actually originated only once, in Greek antiquity. Research activities on the origin of writing and on science in non-European cultures have contributed to shedding new light on the question of independent developments of knowledge, challenging the rationale behind these default responses.

Meeting of collaborators from the MPIWG and the IHNS with Lu Yongxiang, President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, on the occasion of the inauguration workshop in Beijing, September 4-10, 2001. (From left to right: Zou Dahai, Zhang Baichun, Jürgen Renn, Lu Yongxiang, Urs Schoepflin, Matthias Schemmel, Tian Miao, Liu Dun, Lu Dalong.)
Hoisting machine with treadmill. Illustration from the Qiqi Tushuo, the earliest Chinese monograph on western mechanics (1627, the illustration is taken from the 1830 edition)

A workshop on the origin of writing gave specialists on the cuneiform, Egyptian, and Chinese writing systems not only the opportunity to develop a comparative perspective on their results but also to jointly develop a theoretical framework for discussing alternative developmental pathways to the emergence and dissemination of writing. The alternatives discussed ranged from the possibility of completely independent achievements to the hypothesis of a single origin of the idea of writing in Mesopotamia or Egypt, spread then, at the pace of roughly one writing system per millennium, to the Indus valley and then to China (John Baines, William Boltz, Jacob Dahl, Peter Damerow, Matthias Schemmel, Jürgen Renn).

The establishment of a partner group at the Institute for the History of Natural Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing has made it possible to systematically take up research on the development of a non-European scientific tradition and on the question of its interdependence with the European tradition. In two joint workshops with the partner group, the Mohist Canon, a central and unique source of ancient Chinese science, was studied (William Boltz, Peter Damerow, Matthias Schemmel, Jürgen Renn, Zhang Baichun, Zou Dahai).

All sections on mechanics and several sections on optics of the Mohist Canon have been newly translated and interpreted. It turned out that the basic structure of the text shows striking similarities to the contemporary Aristotelean Mechanical Problems , a similarity grounded in a tension between intuitive physics and practical mechanical knowledge that apparently surfaced independently in both cultures. In fact, in the “Canon,” a natural or technical phenomenon is mentioned that occurs contrary to an expectation that is clearly structured by intuitive physics. The coordinated “Explanations” then shows how the phenomenon can be explained in terms of a simple mental model of mechanics.

Another focus of joint work with the partner group is the exchange of practical and scientific knowledge between China and Europe in the early modern period. Present work concentrates on the Yuanxi Qiqi Tushuo Luzui. It is, in fact, the first monograph on western mechanics that was ever compiled in Chinese. In order to introduce this science to China, the authors of the Qiqi Tushuo, Wang Zheng (1571-1644) and Johann Terrenz Schreck (1576-1630), were jointly working on a Chinese presentation of western knowledge and machines from Archimedian times to the early seventeenth century, thereby merging the traditions of the two cultures. The Qiqi Tushuo has meanwhile been made available on the Internet as a high-quality facsimile with introductory notes (; a transcription and translation into English, also to be made available via the Net, are in preparation.

Hoisting machine with treadmill. Mould of relief from the Theatre of Capua (Museo della Civià Romana, Rome)

Expansion of theoretical mechanics in the early modern period:

The rapid advancement of mechanical knowledge in the early modern period is reflected also in an impressive expansion of the literary production, including the emergence of new text genres. In conjunction with the Archimedes Project, a considerable collection of sources (several hundreds) related to mechanics has been accessioned and prepared for inclusion within the digital library under construction (Peter Damerow, Brian Fuchs, Marcus Popplow, Jürgen Renn, Markus Schnöpf, Urs Schoepflin), see also development, ) At the same time, this collection is being subjected to a preliminary identification and classification of its core contents; work on the collection and its assessment was partly supported within the Programme International de Coopération Scientifique (PICS) and has been discussed at a joint workshop with the members of the PICS initiative on “Les traités du Mouvement et les Mécaniques du XVIème siècle. Leurs sources directes et leur influence sur la constitution de la théorie galiléenne du mouvement” initiated by Pierre Souffrin and Jürgen Renn. The collection comprises, in particular:

The analysis of such a huge body of texts from the point of view of historical epistemology requires new, computer-assisted methods which are described under “Development.” It has also stimulated a critical reevaluation of the adequacy of traditional historiographic concepts such as the notions of “discovery” or “reception” (Jochen Büttner, Peter Damerow, Jürgen Renn). The traditional understanding of reception has, in particular, shaped what we have called the “relay runner model” and appears flawed by the precarious assumption that the progress of scientific knowledge and, in particular, the emergence of classical mechanics in the early modern period, is essentially determined by a sequence of events starting with individual discoveries, disseminated by publications, and finally evaluated by the reception of the scientific community. Such a concept of reception presupposes the existence of a more or less homogeneous community of intellectuals in which ideas are supposed to flow freely, while the expansion of mechanical knowledge in early modern times was rather characterized by the competition of individual scientist-engineers under the conditions of patronage. The striking similarities in the works of contrasting authors such as Galileo, Harriot, Stevin, or Descartes can rather be explained by what we have called “shared knowledge resources,” in addition to common challenges and a similar social environment conditioning the communication of scientific information.

As an example of such shared knowledge the use of traditional conceptual tools taken from logic and statics to conceptualize physical interaction in seventeenth-century physics has been studied (Peter McLaughlin). The notion of shared knowledge also provides the background for the analysis of the branching of theoretical alternatives made possible by the enrichment of theoretical mechanics in the early modern period. This potential becomes visible, in particular, in sources which did not enter the heroic narratives of the birth of classical mechanics. Among these are unpublished materials (research notebooks, correspondence, unpublished manuscripts) and the works of scientists who are less well known because they did not, from the anachronistic perspective of classical physics, contribute to its emergence. In sequel to the extensive work invested into making Galileo’s manuscripts accessible on the Internet, his notes on mechanics are analyzed in the context of a dissertation project (Jochen Büttner). A detailed analysis of this vast collection of research notes reveals, contrary to the published Discorsi, the challenging problems that motivated and shaped Galileo’s thinking and shows how many attempts to solve these problems failed.

Another dissertation project is dedicated to similar research notes by Thomas Harriot, one of Galileo’s most important contemporaries, who exploited the same shared knowledge resources in order to approach the same challenging subjects (Matthias Schemmel). While the paths Harriot traces through this knowledge are different from Galileo’s, thus furthering our understanding of its structure, the work of the two scientists displays striking similarities as regards their achievements as well as the problems they were unable to solve.

An experiment using a balance in order to determine the “force” of falling bodies, (left) depicted in Thomas Harriot’s manuscripts (around 1600) and (middle) depicted in a book by ’sGravesande (1742). The experiment designed by Harriot in order to verify the law of fall, has been replicated at the Institute (right)

A third dissertation project explores the long-range effects of the objects challenging preclassical mechanics, which result from the fact that many of them could not be adequately handled with the simple theoretical means of classical mechanics developed in the period of its foundation; this dissertation project deals with the roots of Euler’s reformulation of basic concepts of mechanics in such long-range effects (Dirk Wintergrün). Of particular interest are the connections between the foundation of the calculus and the mechanics of the rigid body. The challenging question is how physical concepts like the concept of matter interact with mathematical concepts in establishing the calculus to become a reliable tool for solving mathematical and physical problems. This project is, however, being delayed due to Dirk Wintergrün’s new position as head of the recently founded Information Technology Group of the Institute.

Edition and translation into English of sources related to the tradition of mechanics:

Work on the contents and contexts of sources on mechanical thinking is accompanied by the development of electronic tools for their computer-assisted analysis (see below) and the preparation of editions and translations. The new consistent English translation of Galileo’s first treatise on motion De Motu Antiquiora that has been prepared within the PICS framework (Raymond Fredette, Mark Schiefsky) will be made available on the Internet, together with high-quality facsimiles of the original manuscript, in the context of a joint project with the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale and the Institute and Museum for the History of Science, both in Florence. Galileo’s Notes on Motion ( which have already been made available in a similar joint project with these institutions are presently being translated into German (Volkmar Schüller). The translation of Galileo’s correspondence dealing with mechanics and engineering problems is being continued (Matteo Valleriani).

A major focus of work has been the edition and translation of treatises related to practical and theoretical mechanical knowledge from the Arabic tradition (Mohammed Abattouy). Approximately twenty texts are accessible to date in almost final edited and translated versions; they are at present being prepared for publication. This corpus offers - for the first time - a comprehensive picture of the early stages of the Arabic tradition of the science of weights. Work on the Arabic sources involves the identification and transcription of new manuscript sources such as the partial copy of Thabit ibn Qurra’s Kitab fi ’l-qarastun, which was found in the Laurentiana Library in Florence (MS Or. 118, ff. 71r-72r).

Tenth-century Arabic steelyard with a section showing the calibrated scale

Previously unmentioned, this short text includes the introductory two sections of Thabit’s treatise dealing with its dynamic foundation. The analysis of text transmission in the Arabic tradition also involves a careful examination of procedures for dealing with inadequately preserved texts designated by the term “islah,” an examination that throws, in particular, new light on the text on the balance ascribed to Euclid.

Associated Research Activities
Elementary forms of thinking and their media:

Apart from the previously mentioned workshop on the origin of writing, several other research activities have been pursued with the aim to trace the interaction between the development of knowledge and different media with special regard to early cultural achievements such as writing, mathematics, and music.

Concerning the first two subjects, such work has been performed in close association with the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (Damerow and Robert Englund, see development, ) In particular, various activities serve to reconstruct the ancient cuneiform administrative archives documented by findings from ancient Mesopotamia, now scattered in museums and private collections throughout the world (Jacob Dahl, Peter Damerow, Robert Englund, Blahoslav Hruška, Natalya Koslova, Manfred Krebernik). These archives document the development of the early forms of the representation of concepts and mental models in an external medium from the quantifications of products in preliterate and proto-cuneiform symbols (around 3000 B.C.) to the advanced book keeping systems of the Third Dynasty of Ur (around 2000 B.C.).

The interrelation between theories of ratio and theoretical music originating in antiquity has been studied from an epistemological perspective, paying special attention to the period between the fourteenth and the sixteenth century in Europe (Oscar Abdounur). Different theories of ratio and proportion have been examined with the intention to identify tendencies in the mathematical treatment of these concepts that reveal structural or terminological similarities to music. Such similarities persisted in treatments of ratios up to the seventeenth century and played an important role in forming their non-arithmetical tradition. A related subject of research was the reception of ancient Greek music theory in the Arab middle ages, focusing in particular on the sources of al-Farabi (Elke Kazemi).

Various other activities related to the goals of the project:

The interaction of metaphysics, philosophy of nature, and science in the Peripatus and in the later Aristotelian tradition has been studied with special emphasis on the explanatory patterns accounting for celestial motions (István Bodnár). A book manuscript of Henrych Grossmann Universal Science vs. Science of an Élite. Descartes’ New Ideal of Science, written in the 1940s and believed to be lost, was recently found and is being edited and prepared for publication (Peter McLaughlin, Gideon Freudenthal).

Project 2: Studies in the Integration and Disintegration of Knowledge in Modern Science
General Goals of the Project

The goal of the project is the study of the emergence and dissolution of core groups of concepts structuring vast arrays of scientific knowledge as a result of processes of knowledge integration and disintegration. In the context of the project, the emergence of such a core group of foundational concepts is conceived of as a restructuring of the cognitive organization of previously acquired knowledge. Core concepts of scientific disciplines such as space, time, force, motion, and matter in the case of mechanics; or species, gene, selection, variation, and adaptation in the case of evolutionary biology, usually achieved their privileged position in the organization of knowledge only after a long process of knowledge integration in a material, social, and cognitive sense. Such concepts proved to be extremely stable in the face of an enormous growth of knowledge in the course of the further development of science. Nevertheless, most scientific disciplines have also witnessed fundamental changes of precisely such core groups of foundational concepts in the past century. These fundamental changes were preceded by more or less extended periods of knowledge disintegration, in which the established cognitive organization of knowledge became problematic. Processes of integration and disintegration of knowledge are studied in the project in close connection since it has turned out that the essential mechanisms at work in periods of destabilization were of the same nature as those in the original processes of the emergence of core concepts of a discipline.

Research activities under the umbrella of this project have covered a wide array of subjects, reaching from Kant’s philosophical integration of classical science, via the concept of gene in development and evolution, to the reorganization of classical knowledge on gravitation by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Work has therefore proceeded along fairly independent lines, resulting in numerous separate papers and books that will not and cannot be synthesized in one major conclusive project publication. Nevertheless, the insights and experiences so far gathered in the course of the project will be used for a redefinition with the aim to turn this project, under the new title “reorganizing knowledge in developed science: the rise and decline of the mechanical world view” into a direct continuation of the research activities pursued in the context of project 1. With its new focus, the project will not only pursue research on the history of central mental models shaping scientific thinking into a period ranging from classical mechanics to the revolutions of modern physics challenging fundamental categories of mechanical thinking, but also trace the far-going restructurations introduced by the analytical tradition and disciplinary organization of scientific knowledge. It is furthermore planned to complement the results already achieved for the emergence of the new concepts of space and time in the context of the two relativity theories by similar research on the emergence of new notions of matter and causality established in the context of quantum theory.

Completed Research Activities
The philosophical integration of classical science:

From the perspective of historical epistemology it has been studied how first-order concepts of the classical scientific theories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries interacted with second-order concepts of global theories such as Kepler’s Weltharmonik, Kant’s dynamism, or Le Sage’s atomistic theory. Following up the completed research on Immanuel Kant’s scientific concepts, the results of which were published as a CD ROM in 2000 (Wolfgang Lefèvre, Falk Wunderlich), the interaction has been investigated by pursuing the changes that the relation between philosophy and different sciences underwent from the last third of the seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century. In co-operation with scholars representing a variety of historical and systematic expertise, a volume on this topic was completed and published in 2001 (Wolfgang Lefèvre).

Results of research undertaken on Kant’s scientific concepts, published as a CD ROM Wolfgang Lefèvre
The genesis of general relativity:

As a result of a collaboration extending over a decennium the first two of a major four-volume work will appear under the title The Genesis of General Relativity (Michel Janssen, John Norton, Jürgen Renn, Tilman Sauer, John Stachel). The two volumes are based on a meticulous reconstruction of the interplay of physical and mathematical knowledge which constituted the successful heuristics of Einstein’s discovery process in the period between 1907 and 1915. They provide, at the same time, a systematic account of the shared classical knowledge in which Einstein’s theory is rooted and of the developmental process by which Einstein and his contemporaries overcame the obstacles impeding the development of non-classical conceptual foundations, obstacles which even prevented Einstein from realizing that he had already found the correct field equations three years before he finally recognized them as such.

Revisiting the foundations of relativistic physics:

An edited volume comprising more than thirty contributions by physicists, historians and philosophers of science mainly dealing with foundational problems of relativity and quantum physics will be dedicated as a Festschrift to John Stachel in honor of his 70th birthday (Abhay Ashtekar, Robert Cohen, Don Howard, Jürgen Renn, Sahotra Sarkar, Abner Shimony).

The Classical Image of Science and the Future of Science Policy: Jürgen Renn delivering the opening speech at the Ringberg Symposium 2000 “Innovative Structures in Basic Research”
Innovative structures of basic research:

An international conference on innovative structures of basic research organized on behalf of the President of the Max Planck Society at Ringberg Castle brought together scientists, science administrators, as well as historians and philosophers of science, see ( A volume based on the contributions to this conference has since been published (Uwe Opolka, Jürgen Renn, Urs Schoepflin, Milena Wazeck, Dirk Wintergrün) .

Speakers and participants at the Ringberg Symposium (left to right) Top left: Milena Wazeck, Dirk Wintergrün, Ulf von Rauchhaupt. Top right: Craig Venter. Bottom left: Robert Schlögl, Barbara Bludau. Bottom right: Yan Yixun, Jürgen Baumert, Christine Nüsslein-Volhard
Craig Venter, Hubert Markl (left) Ulf von Rauchhaupt, Reimar Lüst, Andreas Sentke (right)
Current Research Activities
The reorganization of classical knowledge on gravitation:

After the completion of two volumes of the Genesis of General Relativity, work has been focused on the remaining two volumes, dealing with the scientific context of Einstein’s search for a new theory of gravitation, the largely unexplored history of alternative approaches to the problem of gravitation in late classical physics (Julian Barbour, Dieter Brill, Giuseppe Castagnetti, Yoonsuhn Chung, Leo Corry, Hubert Goenner, Stefan Hajduk, Christopher Martin, John Norton, Jürgen Renn, Matthias Schemmel, Christopher Smeenk, John Stachel, Scott Walter). A broad range of sources related to the work on alternative approaches, also including the work of lesser-known authors, have been analyzed with the aim to systematically explore the possibilities open to the development of a theory of gravitation in the early twentieth century. The results of this research are being presented in the form of comprehensive studies on the different approaches together with a broad selection of translated and annotated source texts.

The reorganization of classical knowledge on matter and radiation:

The difficulties which forced scientists at the beginning of the twentieth century to fundamentally change the conceptual basis of physics resulted from incompatibilities between its three main sub-disciplines, mechanics, thermodynamics and electromagnetism, when applied to “borderline problems” such as the explanation of the photoelectric effect or the electrodynamics of moving bodies. A further borderline problem produced by a progressive integration of knowledge, namely heat radiation, is being intensively studied in the framework of the project. It requires the application of both laws of radiation - covered by those of electrodynamics - and those of thermodynamics. Since such problems fall under the range of application of two partially different theoretical foundations, they represented not only a potential locus of conflict between different conceptual frameworks, but also points of departure for their integration into more developed theoretical frameworks. This in turn required a revision of fundamental concepts underlying all classical physics, and hence a disintegration of traditional knowledge structures. The earlier research on conceptual transformations in the emergence of relativity theory has been extended to include the origins of quantum theory, with particular attention, on the one hand, to the experimental contexts of Planck’s law of heat radiation (Dieter Hoffmann) and, on the other hand, to the mental models allowing the integration of the various strands of knowledge relevant to quantum theory (Jochen Büttner, Jürgen Renn, Matthias Schemmel).

Page of Einstein’s Zurich notebook, on which he considers the model of an absorber in a radiation field and derives an expression for the fluctuation of its energy
The disintegration of evolutionary biology:

In the framework of the present project, biology provides an independent field of investigation (Peter Beurton). After the unifying impact of the “synthetic theory of biological evolution” on biology from the 1940s up to the end of the 1960s, there has been ever since an opposite trend towards disintegration of fundamental concepts of evolutionary biology. The unifying effects which concepts like “the gene,” “the species,” or the concept of “natural selection” had in the past seems to give way to a diversity of opinions that arise from the spate of new discoveries made especially in molecular biology, but also in other fields such as ecology and paleontology. Former concepts no longer keep pace with the flood of new empirical insights.

After the edition of a volume that dealt with a multitude of conceptual and empirical aspects surrounding the gene (see Research Report 1998-1999) work is continued under the following presumptions: Alternative judgments notwithstanding, the gene continues to be a fundamental concept in the biological sciences, but a duality inheres in its ontology: in different contexts the gene appears once as a fundamental particle, and once as a genetic, or morphogenetic field. A reconceptualization of the gene as a unit that bridges this duality also opens new perspectives for the long-aspired unification of embryology and Darwinian evolutionary biology (Peter Beurton).

Associated Research Activities
Mechanism and organism:

The role played by the conflict between mechanism and organism in the epistemological foundation and reflection of modern natural science is being investigated (Renate Wahsner). Continuing earlier systematic work, the approach, or rather the “cunning reason,” is being analyzed which physics has found to capture motion by a principle allowing its calculation and measurement, although motion has, according to Hegel, to be philosophically conceptualized as a contradiction in real existence. This principle comprises essential features of Kant’s concept of mechanism but also of Hegel’s and Kant’s concept of organism. It is planned to include an epistemological reexamination of analytical mechanics from this perspective.

Relativity in context:

Several research activities are dedicated to the theories of relativity, to Albert Einstein’s political and scientific activities, and to their contexts. A dissertation project at Princeton University that has been partly pursued at the Institute is dedicated to early twentieth-century approaches to the origin and structure of the physical universe before and after Einstein’s theory of general relativity (Ole Molvig). A study following up on a major book publication on Ernst Mach, Einstein and the theory of relativity has been prepared (Gereon Wolters). A critical revision of the concept of inertia has been undertaken on the basis of historical reflections from the perspective of modern relativity theory (Domenico Giulini). The notebooks by Hans Reichenbach and Werner Bloch on Einstein’s first lectures notes on general relativity and statistical mechanics are being edited (Folkert Müller-Hoissen, Tilman Sauer, Dirk Wintergrün). The dissemination of the theories of relativity in Brazil and the reasons for the opposition it meets there is the subject of another research project partly pursued at the Institute (Circe Dynnikov). A paper on the political views and the political practice

Horst Kant

of Albert Einstein and Friedrich Dessauer has been completed (Hubert Goenner).

Various other activities related to the goals of the project:

The philosophy of the experiment with particular regard to concept adjustment and the pivotal role of error is at the core of a research project partly carried out at the Institute (Giora Hon). Constructions of Theoretical Physics in Imperial Germany between 1890 and 1918 are the subject of a dissertation project at Princeton University that has partly been pursued at the Institute (Suman Seth). The history of the German Physical Society in the NS-period and the early development of physics in the GDR are being investigated (Dieter Hoffmann). A detailed analysis of the Hahn-Meitner-groups at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute of Chemistry up to 1938 has been pursued on the basis of materials held in the archives of the Max Planck Society (Horst Kant).

Development: Electronic Research Tools and Databases
General Goals of the Developments

Recent developments in electronic data processing have fundamentally changed the potential of research in the history of science as well as in other disciplines. The electronic storage of historical sources improves their accessibility and makes new and powerful methods of retrieving of information possible. Scanning and optical character recognition techniques are being used to build electronic archives of historical sources, and databases and software tools are being developed to assist research and editorial activities. These activities aim at the creation of working environments that make it possible to integrate historical details into coherent models of historical developments. They are based on both the availability of a wide range of sources accessible to the scientific community as a whole, within the framework of open digital research libraries, and on scholarly cooperations extending well beyond a single institution. These cooperations, characterized by a novel unity of research and dissemination, are by their very nature international and interdisciplinary. They draw on the potential of the Internet to cut across the traditional distinctions of research institutions, universities, and libraries.

The process of restructuring scientific work in the history of science is part of a larger process of restructuring scientific research and dissemination presently discussed not only in the Max Planck Society. Although the preparation of electronic editions of historical sources and the development of new working environments is not central to the Institute’s activities and cannot be adequately pursued with its resources, they are unavoidable as long as the time lag in exploiting the potential of the new information technologies in the humanities has not been overcome. Members of the department have therefore been involved in various attempts to improve this situation, in addition to the development activities reported in the following. They have been guided by the idea that only a close and flexible integration of scholarly and technical competencies provides an adequate response to the challenges of the information revolution for the sciences, an idea that is proving successful at various levels of implementation. In an extraordinary effort, the Max Planck Society has given the Institute the opportunity to build up a new information management service unit with the task to realize such an integration by developing a new type of innovative working environment for historians of science. At the level of the Max Planck Society, the idea of matrixing distributed scholarly and technical competencies with a centralized service and development unit has meanwhile been realized in the form of the Heinz-Nixdorf-Center for Information Management at the Max Planck Society, which is expected to closely collaborate with the local information management group at the Institute. The special demands which the humanities and their objects impose on the realization of the potentials of the information revolution, ranging from suitable working environments to issues of public interest, preservation, and copyright, not to forget the dramatic character which the gap between scholarly and technical competence takes on in this realm, have led to a large international initiative, under the label “ECHO” (European Cultural Heritage Online). This initiative has been launched by three Max-Planck Institutes, for the History of Art (the Biblioteca Hertziana) in Rome, for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, and for the History of Science. It aims at creating a European Network as well as a Virtual Innovation Center for the Humanities. Plans for developing a parallel initiative in Mexico have been discussed between members of the Institute and representatives of the Mexican government. The ECHO initiative has been presented at a workshop in Brussels organized by the European Commission and was submitted as a grant proposal within the Fifth European Framework program (see preprint 191).

Completed Work
The administrative archives of the Cathedral of Florence:

In cooperation with a research group of the Opera del Duomo (Margaret Haines), i.e. the board of works of the Cathedral of Florence, an electronic representation of their administrative documents from the period 1417-1436, the two decades during which Brunelleschi’s dome was designed and constructed, has been made available on the Internet (Jochen Büttner, Peter Damerow, Jürgen Renn, Berndt Wischnewski). These data and the results of their analysis provide unique information about the structures of planning and the organization of knowledge at the most prominent construction site of the early Renaissance period. In the future further work will be undertaken, probably in the context of the ECHO project, in order to support the production of data, to increase their accessibility e.g. by translations, and to secure the longevity of this unique electronic archive (

Image of Lodovico Cigoli’s drawing (kept in the Gabinetto di Disegni e Stampe, Uffizi, n.7980A) with the section and plan of the cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore From a database export via a well-defined XML document to an HTML representation - the workflow of the “gli anni della cupola” project
Current Work

The major development activities of the department described in the following are all characterized by a proximity to scholarly endeavors as well by their being part of global collaborative networks in which the implementation of existing standards is secured and new technological developments are rapidly exchanged. None of the activities outlined in the following would be possible without such an exchange and mutual support but also not without the substantial support received both from the Max Planck Society and external funding agencies, in particular from the US National Science Foundation, from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and from the Government of the Autonomous Region of the Canary Islands.

An open digital research library for the history of mechanics (Archimedes Project):

This project is a proof-of-concept project for an open digital research library for the history of science which integrates research and dissemination in a new way. It is a joint endeavor of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Peter Damerow, Brian Fuchs, Jens Kaufmann, Marcus Popplow, Jürgen Renn, Markus Schnöpf, Urs Schoepflin); the Classics Department at Harvard University (Malcolm D. Hyman, Elaheh Kheirandish, Mark Schiefsky); and the Perseus Project at Tufts University (Gregory Crane, David Smith); the English Department at the University of Missouri at Kansas City (Jeffrey Rydberg-Cox); realized within a wider network of scholarly cooperation supported in particular by “Project International de Coopération Scientifique” (PICS) (Pierre Souffrin).

It is the aim of the Archimedes Project to make accessible a substantial part of the entire corpus of sources that provide information about the development of mechanical thinking. In order to deal with such mass data, the Archimedes Project has designed a “production line” for digitizing printed texts and other source materials and structuring the outcome according to scholarly analysis of their content. Working environments are developed involving tools such as automatic morphological analysis of Latin, ancient Greek, and Italian, and semantic linking of sources to general and technical, historical and modern dictionaries and reference works.

Archimedes project: Source text linked to electronic transcription, linked to morphological analyzer, in turn linked to dictionary entry

The production line of the project starts with text selection and data entry of sources, followed by automatic minimal SGML/XML tagging, interactive tagging of formal source structures, automatic metadata generation (morphological analysis and linking to an integrated system of sources and metadata) and interactive creation of metadata within a content-based access system.

Peter Damerow and Brian Fuchs

The standardized text format of the corpus (represented by XML document type definitions) was developed in close cooperation between the partners and is currently being implemented into the production line with the help of instruments developed for generating standardized text renderings, such as a program for expanding medieval abbreviations and filters for regularizing medieval orthographies. Major language specific metadata production tools for ancient Greek, Latin, and Italian texts (including morphological analysis, linking with dictionaries, semantic search capabilities) could be based on developments accomplished in the course of prior cooperation with the Perseus Project and were continually improved by the US part of the project based on experiences gathered in the course of their application to the text corpus of the Archimedes Project. Beyond original plans work on developing or integrating existing morphological tools for Arabic and Chinese has been taken up, currently with a focus on the Arabic part on the US side and the Chinese part in Berlin.

The Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI):

The Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI) is a joint project of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, supported by the National Science Foundation and by the National Endowment for the Humanities in the U.S.A. (Peter Damerow, Robert K. Englund). The CDLI represents the efforts of an international group of Assyriologists, museum curators and historians of science to make available through the Internet the form and content of cuneiform tablets dating from the beginning of writing, ca. 3200 B.C., until the end of the third millennium. The project aims at bringing together in a virtual Internet library the administrative archives of the city-states and empires of early Mesopotamia. Forgotten for 4000 years, the remains of these excavated archives ended up in museums all over the world. These archives represent a unique source for studying human cognition which developed in close interplay with the form of its written representation. However, although cuneiform was deciphered more than 150 years ago, even specialists lack adequate aids in the evaluation of cuneiform literature - not to mention the dilemma of scientists from other disciplines such as historians of science. Thus, in order to facilitate work on the content of the more than 120,000 texts, special search and representational techniques are being developed - partly at the Institute (Jochen Büttner, Peter Damerow, Mark Schiefsky, Markus Schnöpf, Berndt Wischnewski) - based on digital images and transliterations in a standardized XML format. Lexical and grammatical glossaries are being produced, as well as an historical reconstruction of the graphic development of cuneiform through time.

Tokens representing an economic transaction contained in a sealed “envelope.” From the Martin Schøyen Collection, which recently joined the CDLI

Some of the most important museums and university collections are currently participating in the work of the CDLI, including the Vorderasiatisches Museum of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin, the Hilprecht Collection of the University of Jena, the Louvre in Paris, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Yale Babylonian Collection in New Haven, the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and the Martin Schøyen Collection in Oslo. The project is, furthermore, pursued in close cooperation with the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project. Several scientists and developers associated with the CDLI have worked on the sources during their stay as guests of the Institute (Jacob Dahl, Blahoslav Hruška, Natalya Koslova, Manfred Krebernik, Eleanor Robson, Kathryn Slanski).

Internet sites have been set up at the UCLA and at the Institute in order to make the results of the CDLI freely available to scientists working on these sources. At present, these sites make available among other others the collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin, and in a preliminary form the Hilprecht collection of the University of Jena, as well as a catalogue of the cuneiform tablets of the third millennium, and preliminary transliterations of more than 10,000 tablets together with word indices.

Working group of department I
Links to electronic resources provided by the department:

CDLI: Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative The Archimedes Project Development of Mechanical Knowledge in China Galileo’s Notes on Motion Gli anni della cupola 1417-1436: The Administrative Archives of the Cathedral of Florence Innovative Structures in Basic Research Jordanus - An International Catalogue of Medieval Scientific Manuscripts The Perseus Digital Library (Mirror Site)