Department III (Director: Hans-Jörg Rheinberger)

The overarching interest of Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s research group is in the historical and epistemological conditions of scientific innovation and their relation to the history of material culture and the practical dynamics of science. The projects can be grouped around three organizing centers: (1) history and epistemology of experimentation; (2) history of epistemic objects, spaces of knowledge, and changes in the mental equipment of scientists; (3) concept formation and the uses of theory. Most of the individual projects which are presented here cover more than one of these aspects, and most of them are situated in the realm of the biological and medical sciences between the eighteenth and the twentieth century.

History and Epistemology of Experimentation

Experiment has generally been regarded as the signature of modern science. Detailed and in-depth analysis of forms of experimentation is, however, of relatively recent origin. Our efforts aim at an encompassing analysis of experiment. The studies proceed from two premises: First, there is not one form of experiment, but there are different types of experimentation that have emerged and developed over time, acquiring widely different characteristics in different disciplines; and, second, this variety is integral to the epistemology of the sciences and their dynamics.

Since the seventeenth century, scientific accounts of living beings have gone through different stages, including an earlier mechanistic stage, a classificatory natural history, a stage where the “logic of life” became an issue in its own right, a stage of disciplinary diversification and of historicization, and a stage of molecularization. In each of these stages, different levels of organization became prominent and accessible for investigation, from biodiversity to cells to macromolecules to developmental feedbacks. Accordingly, different phenomenologies were developed, different analytical approaches, instruments, and experimental procedures introduced. We would like to understand the specific epistemic activities at all these levels and through all these stages. Therefore, we ask how research fields and ultimately disciplines aggregate around ensembles of practices and technologies, including methods, concepts, and theoretical conjectures. These activities lead to relatively stable configurations of epistemic power and explanatory relevance, but, as a rule, they are historically transient and prone to disaggregation over time.

Scientific development is thus seen from the perspective of practice. It is central to a reconstruction “from below” to demonstrate in detail that experimentation itself is a historically variable scientific form of life that has undergone decisive shifts of structure and content. These shifts are best revealed through broad comparisons. The demonstrative experiment of the seventeenth century contrasts greatly with the experiment as a more or less systematic extension of observation in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, in many areas of science, observation becomes itself dependent on experimental exploration. Experimental systems as the smallest integral working units of research in laboratories and other places of knowledge production are particularly important for understanding the life sciences of the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. Special attention has been paid to exploratory experimentation (Steinle); to experimental systems in early genetics and molecular biology (Rheinberge r); to in vitro experimentation (Landecker); to the role of techniques and instruments of representation, such as mapping in genetics (Gaudillière and Rheinberger), and electroencephalography in the neurosciences (Borck); and to Versuchskulturen (Griesecke).

In the course of the year 2000, a new project on the “Experimentalization of Life: Configurations between Science, Technology and Art” was initiated. The aim of this project is to contribute to an encompassing history of experimentation covering scientific as well as artistic and technological practices. “Experimentalization” is understood as a historical process in the course of which controlled procedures of producing experiences were introduced and expanded throughout societal life. The project aims at tracing the formation (and transformation) of configurations between science, art, and technology that made possible typically “modern” phenomena such as the mechanization, rationalization, and Verwissenschaftlichung of culture (Dierig, Schmidgen, Geimer, Vöhringer, Voss). The project is electronically supported through the development of a “Virtual Laboratory.”

History of Epistemic Objects, Spaces of Knowledge, and Changes in the Mental Equipment of Scientists

This area of investigation pays special attention to three important aspects of the material culture of science: first, choice of objects and model organisms; second, the spaces and places in which these objects or organisms function as vehicles of epistemic contention; third, the mental dispositions that enable researchers to work in these spaces and with these objects. The term “material culture” has been instrumental in characterizing work on the historicity of objects and knowledge spaces; the term “mental equipment” - originally developed by Annales historians - is meant to designate the historicity of thought habits of scientists and scientific communities.

Epistemic Objects. Historical work on scientific practice is not confined to the form of the microstudy. It opens a perspective on long-range macrostudies of the material culture of science. It is evident that a decisive aspect of scientific innovation lies in choosing, shaping, reshaping, and sometimes also abandoning particular scientific objects. Studying the history of these entities presupposes the assumption that they take on various meanings and forms in the different research contexts in which they acquire their epistemic virtues and powers. Frog muscles (Dierig), populations (Jansen), or the senses (Hoffmann) are not epistemic objects by themselves; they are things which become epistemically laden insofar as they locate bioelectricity, supraindividual biological entities, or limits of discrimination, respectively, in an assembly of practical and theoretical relations. We pursue the analysis of these polysemic entities in their impure settings, half-way between crude pieces of matter and rarefied ideal types - material enough to exert the characteristic resistance and resilience met with in the exercise of science and symbolic enough to serve the interests of a quest for knowledge.

Spaces of Knowledge. Natural objects can become interesting for many reasons, they must however fit into historically specified real and symbolic spaces. Such spaces of knowledge and of knowledge production can take on widely different forms: naturalists’ cabinets, botanical gardens, agricultural experiment stations, laboratories, the “field” of the anthropologist or the naturalist, the archive and the museum, which in their modern shape are an invention of the nineteenth century, and, more recently, electronic environments with their potentials for modeling and simulation. Spaces of knowledge mark the boundaries of epistemic objects and connect them to larger cultural settings, forms of art and architecture, and especially forms of scientific communication. In turn, these spaces receive their particular shapes from the chosen objects of study. Such mutual fitting of objects and spaces is not only characteristic of the microworld of experimental systems embedded into urban milieus (Dierig) and the relations between the laboratory and the clinic (Hess), but also of the macroworld of anthropogeography (Schröder), of oceanic depth (Höhler), and of ecosystems in townscapes (Lachmund).

Mental Equipment. Finally, to a material culture there corresponds the mental equipment of the scientist. In recent years, historically specifiable configurations of explicit and tacit knowledge, skills, bodily and mental discipline, and gestural repertoires became of interest to historians of science as they recognized that the mastering of instruments and the training of the senses were integral to knowledge production. The concept of mental equipment encompasses these various aspects of the knowing subject and relates them to virtues, passions, mentalities, idiosyncrasies. The aim is thus to combine culturally shaped (self-)images and value perceptions of scientists with their concrete scientific practices. The scope reaches from the importance of calibrating the senses in early-nineteenth-century life sciences (Hoffmann), to the expert in the late nineteenth century (Mendelsohn), to the role of heroic self-discipline in romantic self-experimentation and attempts to include or exclude the subjective Anschauung in early twentieth-century physical anthropology (Hagner).

Concept Formation and the Uses of Theory

The studies assembled under this heading assess the specificity and role of the “theoretical” in the investigation of living things. In part, it is the practical turn in the history of science of the past two decades itself that makes the question of the theoretical once again interesting and investigable from a fresh perspective. Concept formation and the forms and functions of generalization in biology can be analyzed from a number of different perspectives, among them the relation between physical and life sciences (Yamalidou) or between biology and sociology (Barberis); the historical relation between text and image in the formation of scientific arguments (Wellmann); workplace relations (Otis); the organizing function of concepts in both experiment and representation, especially over longer periods of time (Müller-Wille); the problem of the heterogeneity of biological discourses and the traffic of metaphors (Brandt); and the historicization of analytical categories such as reductionism, vitalism, holism, and mechanism (Potthast). Special emphasis is on the pragmatic aspect of how concepts and generalizations do work as tools in various historical contexts and on how they become embodied in practical configurations.

An important perspective on the problem of the meanings of theory derives from the complexity of the realm of the living as it emerged from the disciplinary diversification of biology in the nineteenth century. Access to and therefore definition of such complexity has been largely dependent on technologies whose development has usually not been intrinsic to the development of the biological sciences themselves. The question as to how levels of epistemic activity are connected thus becomes relevant. This may be one of the deeper reasons for the fact that in the history of the biosciences since the late nineteenth century “theoretical biology” and “general biology” came to play a role that is in need of much more historical attention than it has received so far (Laubichler). Instead of joining the perennial quarrel over reducibility - of biology to physics at large, and of one level of analysis to another - we propose to investigate the historical dynamics of such heterogeneity and their impact on concept formation and the uses of theory in its own right (Müller-Wille).

On a meta-level, the interest of these studies is reflected in efforts to determine and evaluate the mutual relations between history of science and philosophy of science (Steinle and Schickore).

Research Projects on the “History and Epistemology of Experimentation”
Experimental Systems and Strategies of Experimentation in Genetic Research

Hans-Jörg Rheinberger

During the last two years, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger concentrated his efforts on finishing a book on the history of protein biosynthesis research. Concomitantly, this study develops in detail and in a systematic fashion the notions of experimental systems, epistemic things, and epistemic cultures ( Experimentalsysteme und epistemische Dinge. Eine Geschichte der Proteinsynthese im Reagenzglas, 2001).

In parallel, Rheinberger worked on a number of case studies designed to map the development of experimental genetics in Germany from the end of the nineteenth century to World War II. The general aim of the project is to look at the material characteristics of different experimental systems and related strategies of experimentation and to understand the impact they had on the historical shape and development of classical genetics in Germany. The first cluster of studies deals with the corn and pea hybridizations which led Carl Correns to reformulate Mendel’s laws around 1900. A close study of his later work shows that it was the strict pursuit of Mendelian genetics that eventually led Correns to the investigation of extrachromosomal phenomena. Correns’ strategies of experimentation are intimately linked to the material characteristics of the breeding systems he used. A second case study investigated the establishment of an experimental system that allowed convergence of transmission genetics and developmental physiology. It was devoted to a reconstruction of how Alfred Kühn and his coworkers came to conceptualize gene-action chains involved in pigment formation in the flour moth Ephestia between 1925 and 1945. The third case study is devoted to the establishment of tobacco mosaic virus as a model of combined physical, chemical, and biological investigation of genetic material at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes for Biology and Biochemistry around 1940. The case study series will be continued.

Related Conference: The Mapping Cultures of Twentieth-Century Genetics: From the Fly Group to the Human Genome Project, 2-4 March 2001

Jean-Paul Gaudillière, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger

This project was devoted to the history of a particular experimental technology - the technology of mapping in its various forms - that came to shape the scientific culture of genetics in multiple ways throughout the twentieth century. The papers of a conference held at the Institute in March 2001 cover the whole field from early studies of genetic linkage to the classical mapping enterprises focusing on Drosophila and corn, to bacterial and phage mapping and finally to the various forms of mapping and sequencing whole genomes including the human genome. In a first set of questions, the epistemic dimension of genetic mapping as a way of “spatializing” knowledge was addressed. A second set of questions focused on mapping as a form of biological work. A third issue concerned the changing scale and the changing social nature of genetic mapping cultures. A volume collecting the conference papers is currently under review.

Exploratory Experimentation

Friedrich Steinle

Friedrich Steinle’s work aims at obtaining an in-depth view on experimentation by focussing on

Friedrich Steinle

research practice and its reconstruction from research notes, letters and other primary sources. His work concentrated on early electromagnetism. The research field was opened in 1820 by Oersted’s discovery of an effect of galvanic electricity on magnetism. There was no theory available to guide experimental research, not even a conceptual framework. Throughout Europe, experimenters pursued a type of work which Steinle has labelled “exploratory experimentation.” The central experimental procedure is the systematic variation of experimental parameters, with the aim to find out which of the various parameters affect the effect in question, and which of them are essentially required. In many cases, moreover, the attempt to formulate regularities requires the formation of new categories. It is here, in the realm of concept-formation, where exploratory experimentation has its most unique power and importance.

The different features of exploratory experimentation become particularly clear in the research practice of Michael Faraday and his French counterpart André-Marie Ampère, the latter of whom had a short but intense phase of exploratory experimentation right at his entry into the new field of electromagnetism in 1820. The contrast between their two experimental approaches is all the more significant as the resulting conceptual frameworks developed into two full-blown, incompatible theoretical systems of electrodynamics, whose dichotomy dominated much of physical research in the second half of the century. In general, it can be stated that exploratory experimentation plays a much more important role in physical research than has hitherto been realized.

The Emergence of the Electric Brain: Experimental Epistemologies of Electrophysiological Brain Research, 1920-1950

Cornelius Borck

Cornelius Borck

The research project of Cornelius Borck centred around the question of how electricity became operative in brain research between 1920 and 1950. These years can be described as a critical period for the formation of what Borck calls the “electric brain,” i.e. the emergence of the concept of an electrical mind-machine created by combining neurophysiology, psychology and electrical engineering. The project focused on the development of the electroencephalograph (EEG). This machine represented the brain’s electrical activity by means of graphic inscription, constituting a new example in the tradition of Marey’s “méthode graphique.”

Electroencephalography was first presented by a German psychiatrist who had worked for years in almost complete isolation on this device, although several electrophysiological laboratories had all the necessary instruments for recording currents as small as brain waves. But in none of these laboratories were any attempts made to record electricity from human brains. The human brain was simply not an epistemic object in electrophysiology before Hans Berger’s publication of the EEG.

Equipment for EEG Recording (1926)

After the mid-1930s, many specialized labs started making electroencephalographic recordings. No field of psychiatry or psychophysiology, of social or individual psychology proved too distant to be related to electroencephalography. From marriage counseling on the basis of brain wave patterns to the EEG of ovulation, hardly any moment in human life escaped the application of electroencephalography. In this process of an ever more complex analysis, the electric currents initially recorded in order to understand the function of the brain gradually came to restructure its inner life. Electroencephalography turned into a step towards manufacturing the active mind which still continues today.

Cellular Features: Time-Lapse Cinematography and Tissue Culture

Hannah Landecker

Hannah Landecker

Hannah Landecker pursued two related avenues of research in her project. Both of them address the role of time and movement in biological experiment. Of all the sciences, biology most earnestly lays claim to questions concerning living movement. All the same, it contains many static, analytic, and mathematical forms of knowledge; much of biological practice involves deanimation. Static and dynamic forms of representation thus exist in tension within biology and its experimental practices. This tension and the incorporation of dynamic temporality into analytical biological knowledge is the larger theme behind the specific focus on research practices such as time-lapse microcinematography and the use of living cells cultured outside the body.

While it is often recognized that cinematography originated in scientific imaging of the late nineteenth century, particularly in physiology and the chronophotographic techniques of Étienne-Jules Marey, little attention has been paid to the arena of scientific cinematography after Marey’s death in 1904. The project “Cellular Features” was taken up to explore how film recording and projection were used as research tools in biological experimentation after 1907. The use of dynamic living subjects stood in stark contrast to the static, dead subjects of histology, which was the dominant mode of representing cells at that time.

The second, related research theme was the history of tissue culture in the twentieth century, and its development through a shift from in vivo experimentation inside the bodies of animals to in vitro experimentation on extracted living cells outside the body. Through a series of case studies in the history of cell biology, this project focuses on how cells came to live in laboratories, and once there, how they were used both as proxies for the bodies of patients, and as biotechnological tools in the production of viruses, antibodies and other molecules.

Biology and Industry: Hormones, Antibiotics and Pharmaceutical Research in Germany, 1925-1955

Jean-Paul Gaudillière

Jean-Paul Gaudillière is working on the relationship between biological research, medicine and the

Jean-Paul Gaudillière

pharmaceutical industry. His current project focuses on the shaping of hormones and antibiotics as drugs during the period 1930-1950. The project aims at understanding the peculiar relations between laboratory experimentation, large-scale industrial production, and clinical work which were associated with the development of “biological drugs” in this period.

Two epochs in the historiography of drugs are often heralded. During the first period, an industrial production of chemical drugs emerged within the dyestuff industry. Chemists then invented dozens of analogs and derivatives of the molecules used in the textile industry. The development of sulfonamides opened the second period: the era of generalized chemical screening coupled with clinical investigation. The sulfa case brought the ideal of chemotherapy back to life and revitalized screening practices within the industry. As such, it provided some of the background for the invention of another sort of therapeutics: penicillin and other antibiotics.

However, the price paid for our understanding of the role played by the chemical industry in the history of twentieth-century pharmaceuticals has been to underestimate the role of biotechnology, and biological invention. A history of “biologicals” is needed. From this perspective, the project seeks to investigate how physiologists, biochemists, and bacteriologists participated in the collection, isolation, preparation, and evaluation of hormones and antibiotics.

“Versuchskulturen:” The Relationship between Experimentalism and Essayism

Birgit Griesecke

Birgit Griesecke

The word “Versuchskultur” (experimental culture) was coined by Robert Musil. Put in the plural, the notion creates epistemic challenges: “Versuche” are performed in many different ways and in many different contexts: in the “two cultures” of science, the arts, and in European and non-European cultures. The project questions these traditional cultural boundaries without trying to define the essence of the “Versuch.” The familiar question “What is an experiment” is reformulated as the question: How are experiments performed, and how can they be interrelated?”

Griesecke discusses diverse historical materials in order to increase awareness of the enormous variety of tentative thinking, acting, and writing, and the emerging structural “family resemblances” regarding the explorative dimension of experimentation. She takes examples from the history of anaesthesia and the history of ethnography, asking how in spite of all their obvious differences, Humphry Davy’s pharmacopoetical (self-)experiments with ether and laughing gas around 1800 are related to the drug experiments which the physician Hanaoka Seishû performed about the same time in Japan. Griesecke asks further how trials to grasp the unknown spaces of drug dreams are related to exploratory trips of a different kind, namely those in which the encounter with other cultures force essayists such as Georg Forster and Arai Hakuseki to explore new, tentative kinds of representation.

Laughing gas party (1839) An amputation performed in the operating theatre of old ST. Thomas Hospital (1775-1776)

Since the difficulties of drug experimenters to represent their cryptic experiences challenge our own historiographical means, Griesecke has initiated a film project with the Polish film director Barbara Lipinska. In this medium, the visual and auditory aspects of creative processes can be thematized in a way that is not available to scientific discourse but makes an important contribution to the investigation of the explorative dimension of experimentation.

The Experimentalization of Life. Configurations between Science, Art, and Technology

Sven Dierig, Peter Geimer, Henning Schmidgen

Doctoral Students: Margarete Vöhringer, Julia Voss

Part of the work on the history and epistemology of experimentation is carried out within this collective project. It receives funding from the VolkswagenStiftung in the context of its program “Key Themes in the Humanities.” Starting in October 2000, it is carried out in cooperation with the Hermann von Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik at the Berlin Humboldt University, the Media Department at the Bauhaus University of Weimar, and the Program for the History and Philosophy of Science at Stanford University. The core of the project is oriented towards a history of the experimental life sciences in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. After experimental physiology had established itself as one of the paradigmatic disciplines of the 19th century, psychology and linguistics also became laboratory-based enterprises. Experimental cultures emerged thereafter in a variety of places, as for example in literary movements relying on automatism, aleatorics, and combinatorics. New media such as photography and film transformed both, the fine arts and the sciences. Cities became vast fields of experience in which people undertook all sorts of experiments in living together. At the same time, artists and writers developed new procedures of object reduction and new forms of cooperation with engineers and scientists.

Individual Projects in the Context of the Experimentalization of Life
1) Piano Experiments

Sven Dierig

The piano is the prime example of an instrument that can be used for cultural as well as for scientific purposes. Initially designed to perform music, it additionally found its way into laboratory experimentation. Focusing on nineteenth-century life sciences, the project studies experimenting with the piano from three perspectives.

In the 1860s the German painter and cartoonist Wilhelm Busch caricatured the contemporary enthusiasm for solo pianists in the Munich satirical magazine Fliegende Blätter

Experimenting Physiologists: With a focus on Germany and France the project aims to give an overview of where, for what purposes, and to what extent the piano became part of the material practices in laboratories for physiology. Furthermore it investigates the kind of knowledge about the human or animal body that was acquired by experimental setups linked to piano playing.

Blood-pressure rhythms in dogs, cats and humans in response to the sounds of musical instruments. (Johann Dogiel, Leipzig Institute for Physiology 1880)

Experimenting Piano Players: Apart from piano playing physiologists, the project is devoted to piano playing musicians acting as physiologists. With the example of Franz Liszt and Ignazy Paderewski, the concert hall and the private salon will be discussed as laboratories where those pianists experimented with the emotions and sensations of the audience. On the example of Carl Stumpf the project discusses pianists in physiological and psychological laboratories as experimental objects. The pianist as a self-experimentator will be explored with a case study on the Alsatian pianist Marie-Jaell Trautmann and the Paris physiologist Charles Féré.

The Piano’s Body: A third focus of the project is to study how knowledge about the human body produced by the use of pianos as laboratory instruments found its way into piano makers’ workshops. Steinway & Sons is an example that demonstrates how physiological knowledge was turned into technological knowledge of instrument makers. Furthermore the project intends to investigate how the anatomical parts of the piano were used for scientific purposes, either physically, as part of experimental setups, or metaphorically. The piano as a metaphor in brain research competes with the metaphor of telegraphic wires.

The overarching goal of the project is to describe and analyse the piano as a highly mobile and flexible material thing that diffuses and bridges knowledge, places, and practices in different fields of culture and science.

2) Graphical Systems (1830-1930)

Peter Geimer

Extending his studies on the epistemology and aesthetics of photographic inscription, Geimer focusses on the function and different uses of the graphical method. The main goal of this work is to explore to what extent the graphical method is part of a general concept of inscription that is not restricted to the classical domain of “physiological graphics” but covers cultural techniques such as handwriting and drawing as well. Geimer analyzed experiments on the movement of the human hand, especially in writing on a material surface or in the air. In these experiments, human writing is treated as an automatic inscription of physiological and cerebral information that becomes visible in a pattern of specific lines and curves. Instead of reducing the body’s movements to the function of a machine, Geimer aims to show that both are specific articulations of a common concept of inscription that precedes the usual distinctions between the “mechanical” and the “manual,” the “objective” and the “subjective.”

A second focus of Geimer’s work concerns physiological research in the field of visual arts. Geimer examined the work of the Vienna physiologist Sigmund Exner. Exner aimed at reconstructing animal perception, locomotion, and physiology. He performed experiments on the orientational sense of pigeons, on the compound eye of insects and their corresponding view of the world, and on the gliding of birds of prey. Geimer linked these experiments to Exner’s earlier studies on the physiology of flying and floating in the visual arts. In contrast to contemporary attempts to dominate the artists, e.g. by reducing their peculiar way of painting to progressive eye diseases (Liebreich on Turner), or by correcting their “false” representation of physiognomy or locomotion (Duchenne de Boulogne, Marey, du Bois-Reymond), Exner treated figures in painting as given phenomena and objects of research that are accessible to physical calculations and physiological and psychological questioning. Geimer explored how, in this approach, the investigation of objects and phenomena in nature coincided with the investigation of phenomena in art.

In sum, Geimer aims to explore a configuration of science, art, and technology that links discourses about impossibility and fiction in visual arts to elements of imagination in the physiologist’s own experimental heuristics.

3) Chronos and Psyche: The History of Physiological and Psychological Time Experiments, 1860-1910

Henning Schmidgen

Henning Schmidgen

Experimental systems are time machines. They fuse a multiplicity of times into productive relations of anticipation and retroaction: the times of model objects and of the observer, the times of the instruments and of the phenomena under consideration, and finally the time of the related utterances. This project investigates the construction of time relations in nineteenth and early-twentieth-century experimental physiology and psychology.

In his research, Schmidgen focuses on the materiality of physiological and psychological time experiments, the genealogy of their technological components, and their distribution and mediation. In the mid-1850s Helmholtz, following a model of Pouillet, constructed an electro-magnetic device for investigating the propagation speed of nerve stimulation in the frogs. Ten years later Donders used a modified Scott-phonoautograph for measuring the swiftness of psychological processes in humans. And in 1875 Wundt made use of the Hipp chronoscope in order to measure the reaction times in psychological test subjects. Schmidgen argues that the experimental systems used for studying living time are to be understood in the nineteenth-century-context of large technological systems that served to unify and distribute standardized time. He shows that the experimental set ups of physiologists and psychologists were connected to observatories, telegraph devices, and clock systems that provided public spaces with accurate time, from workshops to entire cities.

Experimental set-up for measuring reaction time

Schmidgen is also interested in the more general cultural techniques that left traces on these experiments. In Leipzig fall apparatus and chronoscope were used to discover elementary parts of general consciousness; in Paris the same set up was used to determine the specific time of psychological individuals. Living time, as it was studied by physiologists and psychologists, thus reveals itself not as a simply given phenomena that can be easily measured; it is rather a highly

Margarete Vöhringer

mediated “effect” produced by a variety of architectural, technological, and cultural materials.

4) Psychotechnics and Avantgarde. On the Convergence of Science, Art, and Technology in the Russian 1920s

Margarete Vöhringer

Margarete Vöhringer investigates interactions between art, science, and technology in the Russian postrevolutionary period. She is interested in how disciplines like physiology, psychology, psychotechniques, and ergonomics became linked with visual arts, literature, and art theory. Her guiding questions are: Which theoretical and practical impact did the life sciences have on the arts, and which options did the arts offer to these sciences? Were there distinct, historically genuine practices of “experiment” in the life sciences of the Russian 1920s as well as in the arts? What were the relations among the new media, the propagation of experimental cultures, and art?

Mechanics of the Brain. The Behaviour of Animals and Man (Popular-scientific film on Pavlov’s Reflexology), by Vsevolod Pudovkin, Leningrad 1926

The first part concentrates on Nikolai Ladovski’s “Psychotechnical Lab” at the VChUTEMAS (Higher Artistic-Technical Laboratories). It was founded in 1927 and was one of the most explicit articulations for the infiltration of the arts by life science practices. A second part of the project deals with the interaction between scientific and artistic strategies of communication and control. For example, Russian photographers and cinematographers of the 1920s often relied on techniques that reveal striking similarities to procedures of scientific experimentation, e.g., repetition, variation, “freezing,” and serialization. The third part deals with Alexander Bogdanov’s physiological blood experiments. Vöhringer argues that Bogdanov’s blood experiments stand in line not only with his own cultural theory of “proletcult,” but also with “factographer” Nikolai Cuzak’s vision of “art as life-formation.” In the course of these developments, Bogdanov finally renounced the representational character of the arts altogether and, as a scientist, tried no longer

to address people through their visual perception but to intervene directly into their bodies.

The aesthetic act thus became a condition of scientific activity.

5) One Long Argument: The Images of the Darwinian Debate

Julia Voss

Julia Voss

The dissertation of Julia Voss deals with image production in the context of the debate on Charles Darwin’s theory on evolution. The research is mainly based on material from Germany. The purpose is to examine the exchange between popular, artistic, and scientific imagery. The course of the debate is traced back to popular as well as scientific magazines, museum displays, scientific theatres, and book illustrations. The diverging places of publication are also taken into consideration. The project thus analyzes a broad range of visual representations, from complex museum dioramas to caricatures. In contrast to the majority of historical studies on Darwinism, which have traditionally focused on texts, the project aims to reconstruct the visual culture surrounding and shaping the debate.

A popular engraving from 1870 showing the humaneness of the apes in the age of evolutionary theory

The main argument of the thesis is that key elements of the theory of evolution can only be expressed adequately in pictorial terms. Accordingly, Ernst Haeckel experimented with images of successive change in his “recapitulation theory,” Charles Darwin modelled the theory of descent in a sketch of hesitant phylogenetic tree, and Alfred Brehm advised his artists to portray the family of apes in an utterly humanist manner for his “Illustrirtes Thierleben.” Starting from Darwin’s sketch in the “Origin of Species” in 1859, up to his baroquely illustrated “Expression of the Emotions” from 1872, evolutionism has always been embedded in an ever-growing body of visual representations. The reconstruction of this stream of images as visual arguments is the goal of the dissertation.

The Virtual Laboratory

The Virtual Laboratory is a digitalisation project devoted to the history of the experimentalization of life with a focus on the interaction between the life sciences, arts, and technology. The project is developed in close cooperation with Jörg Kantel and Michael Behr. The Virtual Laboratory consists of two related parts: an essay part where historians can publish their research on experimentation in the life sciences, art, and technology; and an archive that offers materials concerning experiments, instruments, buildings, scientists, and artists between 1830 and 1930.

Main page of the Virtual Laboratory

During the first phase of the project, four parts of the Virtual Laboratory have been developed: the essay part and the sections called “Sites,” “People,” and “Library.” In the essay section the members of the group present crucial aspects of their current research in a concise form suitable for the Internet platform. In a further step, other scholars will be invited to contribute to the essay section by commenting on the published results and presenting their own research. The “Sites” section contains a number of institutes and laboratories where physiological and psychological research activities were carried out. The “People” section contains biographies of individuals who were involved in the experimental discourses and practices and offers bibliographical references to their main works. The library contains scans of historical books and journals as well as a collection of trade catalogues that are being published for the first time.

The Virtual Laboratory is a work in progress. In close relation to the already established parts, further sections will be developed on “Experiment,” “Technology,” “Objects,” “Exposition,” and “Concept.” Since February 2002 a prototype of the Virtual Laboratory is accessible on the Web (

Related Conference: Experimental Cultures: Configurations of Life Sciences, Art, and Technology (1830-1950), 7-9 December 2001

This conference explored experimentation as a cultural activity from a variety of perspectives. It aimed to investigate “experimental cultures” with respect to the following intersecting levels: epistemic and aesthetic objects, scientific and artistic procedures, and finally territories, i.e. the actual sites in which configurations between life sciences, art, and technology historically took shape, or which they created according to their own needs. Topics included physiological experiments on questions of art; the early use of cinematography in microbiology; the conception and reception of experimental theatre, and the history of cybernetics as an enterprise crossing the boundaries between science, art, and entertainment. Contributors came from a variety of disciplines, including history and sociology of science, history of art, general history, and literary studies.

Further Projects Related to History and Epistemology of Experimentation

Lukas Straumann

Lukas Straumann worked on a dissertation project entitled “Nützliche Schädlinge. Angewandte Entomologie, chemische Industrie und Landwirtschaftspolitik in der Schweiz.” Straumann’s aim was to analyze the development of applied entomology and pest control in Switzerland with a focus on the period between 1920 and 1950. The work is based on extensive archival research in public and private archives in Switzerland and Germany. Jérôme Ségal worked on a project concerning the history of simulation in molecular biology. Taking protein folding as his case study, he focused on the work of MIT scientist Cyrus Levinthal and the new experimental practices introduced by the use of computers, that is, experimentation in silico. Peter Geimer has completed his earlier project on “Noise or Nature? Photography of the Invisible around 1900.” He has edited a book on the topic, “Ordnungen der Sichtbarkeit”.

Research Projects on the “History of Epistemic Objects, Spaces of Knowledge, and Changes in the Mental Equipment of Scientists”
Apparatuses of the Senses: Measuring the Senses as a Part of Experimental Settings at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century

Christoph Hoffmann

The concern of this project is the emergence of knowledge on the human senses between 1800 and

Christoph Hoffmann

1850, their coming into being as epistemic objects. In particular, Hoffmann proposes that important features of this knowledge are closely linked to processes in the observational practices of the measuring sciences after 1800.

Three hypotheses lead the investigation. The first is that the concept of the senses as “apparatuses” of a certain intrinsically limited function is part of a more general shift in knowledge on the senses. This shift was powerfully enacted in the practices of the measuring sciences since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The second claim is that the concept of the human senses as apparatuses of an intrinsically determined function has to be related to the epistemological foundations of the sciences. The observational practices of the measuring sciences show that the understanding of truth as an approximation to a “true value” is intimately connected to a developing insight into the material conditions and limitations of observation. These limitations - so the third claim - generated an unprecedented amount of experimentally based knowledge of the function and the systematic errors of measuring instruments and of the senses themselves. This knowledge in turn provoked practical measures to prevent or evaluate systematic errors of measurement.

Sector disc (Sektorenscheibe) in rapid motion used by Ernst Mach for his studies of visual perception (1865)

In the report period, Hoffmann worked on three aspects of his project. First, he concentrated on Ernst Heinrich Weber’s research on the sense of touch around 1830, in particular on the epistemological status of this very early measuring approach in physiological research. The second aspect was the use of apparatuses as models of the function of sensory organs. The example of the telegraphic wire and the electric telegraph, as models respectively of the “simple nerve-fiber” and the nervous system between 1810 and 1860 from Soemmerring to Helmholtz, demonstrates that the ways in which model and modeled object of research were related continually changed according to the local framework of research and the technological development of the corresponding apparatus. Finally, a refined understanding of the ways in which apparatuses served as models of the function of sensory organs was the topic of a study on the use of the photographic layer as a model of the human retina. Here Hoffmann concentrated on Ernst Mach’s research on subjective phenomena of visual contrast between 1865-1868 and on Willy Kühne’s opto-chemical theory of vision in 1877-78.

Workshop: Pure Science and its Impurities. On Trouble Sources, Contaminations, and Waste in the Sciences, 1850-1920, 13-15 July 2000

Christoph Hoffmann

This workshop originated from the research work of several scholars of the MPIWG on practices of observation, experimental systems and the emergence of scientific objects in the nineteenth century. The studies showed that around 1850 controlling the increasing variety of disturbances and contaminations of their work became a common concern of scientists working in very different fields. The researchers’ investment of time, labor, and material resources in the design of proper research methods and appropriate research spaces indicates the extent to which they saw these disturbing events as spoiling observations and results of their investigations. By the same token, it can be shown that materials that had previously been regarded as worthless or useless came to be transformed into objects of knowledge.

The aim of the workshop was to examine these seemingly minor methodological developments from a broader epistemological point of view. The main intention was to explore disturbances, contaminations, and waste both as driving forces of knowledge production and as “windows” to reveal epistemological presuppositions, and to understand these incidences not simply as obstacles to knowledge, but as objects in their own right with a history of their own.

Population as an Object of Ecology, Demography, and Epidemiology

Sarah Jansen

Sarah Jansen continued her investigation of the constitution of objects that have been “successful” in shaping both scientific and non-scientific realities. Her work focussed on the analysis of animal and human populations in Scandinavia, Germany, and England between 1900 and 1950.

The concept of population is a touchstone for the development of modern biology and medicine, as well as for the culture, politics, and economics of Western and colonized nations since the end of the eighteenth century. Jansen investigated the practices through which “population” became part of scientific, cultural, economic, and political realities. The following aspects of the early traffic between animal and human population sciences were central:

(1) Conceptualizing groups of organisms as populations means describing them in terms of vital parameters such as fertility, mortality, age classes, and patterns of migration, with the goal of manipulating these parameters to achieve maximum sustainable productivity of this group of organisms. While previous work entailed a study of the tools, practices, and concepts by which members of migratory animal populations became identified, the work reported here focussed on early studies of the demographic strata of marine animal populations. (2) Jansen’s analysis of epidemiological studies of animal and human populations undertaken predominantly in England in the early twentieth century revealed migration and migratory populations as a potent link between animal and human population sciences. The work has led her to investigate in detail the resonances among practices of physically and culturally marking and tracing both human and animal migrants. (3) A third focus of Jansen’s work was the analysis of the earliest field experiments in ecology up to 1920. She investigated the procedures that produced experimental spaces outside the laboratory and led to the isolation of parameters involved in manipulating them.

Science en Masse

Andrew Mendelsohn

Andrew Mendelsohn

This project continued to study science in the mass dimension, focusing especially on the organization of observation. The topic is less “big science” than the sciences of big objects and phenomena. Studying large-scale phenomena could as often involve little science, even single (indefatigable) observers, as big. Research contrasted two cases of the organization of observation, one over the space of the entire nation of France, the other over the smaller yet complex compass of Paris. The first case concerns the making in late-eighteenth-century France of what may have been the first national system of observers, the Société royale de médecine, which worked as something between a royal society and a republic, thus reflecting the broader history of the period. The second case concerns the history of social and medical enquêteurs in nineteenth-century Paris, the cultural shaping of their selves, and their everyday practice or footwork.

Andreas Mayer
The Poetics and Mechanics of Walking: Experimental Articulations of Locomotion in the Nineteenth Century

Andreas Mayer

Walking has been a matter for reflection since classical antiquity. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, a new and distinctive development can be discerned: the attempt to turn walking into an object of experimental study. Physiologists, anatomists, and pathologists were searching for the laws underlying the mechanics of the “human walking apparatus.” The present project is concerned with this new development and its trajectory, situating it in a double genealogy of a “mechanics” and a “poetics” of walking, following their oppositions and overlappings.

In order to account for the intricate interweaving of scientific, political, and aesthetic forms of order, the project develops a conceptual perspective which takes “articulations” as its organizing unit. At the moment, the project focuses more strongly on the mechanics of walking. Experimental articulations of walking subjects provide links between places, techniques, and instruments. They are never isolated, but necessarily connected to other spaces where individual or collective bodies are set in motion: the city, the hospital, and the military. In various case studies, the project explores three themes:

General view of the physiological station of Etienne-Jules Marey 1883

(1) Experimental articulations of locomotion transported the walking subject from the urban or natural environment to places which could be controlled or turned the subject into a moving registering device. Either the walkers were transported to a closed and controlled place which had been constructed or especially transformed for the purpose of study (the lab approach), or the scientists went out into the respective field where they and other people walked, with the help of new instruments and techniques which allowed for observation and/or measurement of movement (the field approach). (2) The second theme which was central to the invention of specific articulations of experimental walking research concerns the classification of a “normal” or “natural” gait as opposed to its “pathological” counterparts. (3) Finally, the project explores the ambiguity of the increasing mechanization of walking: although the walker’s path became represented by traces, the power of inscription devices has to be assessed in relation to the manifold spaces in which articulations of walking thrived.

Spaces for (History of) Science

Anke te Heesen, Michael Hagner, Candida Höfer

For quite a while, historians of science have focussed on the material culture and its meaning for the process of producing scientific knowledge. The examination of spaces of science has led to the self-reflexive question in what spaces and under what circumstances history of science itself takes place. As the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science is located in the Czech Embassy, a peculiar building in the tradition of Socialist realism and not planned for a research institution, the idea was born to have a look on our own material culture and spatial boundaries in this building.

During the summer of 2001 the German artist and photographer Candida Höfer was invited to work at the Institute. She spent two weeks in Berlin and worked in both parts of the building, the MPIWG and the Embassy. The result is a series of photographs showing two different worlds inside the same architecture. In Höfer’s images, the spaces and their interieur reflect human activities but show no human beings. Therefore they call into question the classical picture of the lonely scientist, surrounded by books and piles of paper. Instead the photographs show functional hybrid spaces that guide and shape our every day work. An exhibition and a book are in preparation.

The Institute‘s library (Photography by Candida Höfer)
The Laboratory in the City: Urbanization, Industrialization, and the Place of Experiment in Nineteenth-Century Physiology

Sven Dierig

Sven Dierig

Laboratories, along with the researchers, organisms, instruments, and experiments associated with these places of investigation, are not isolated from the world beyond their physical and institutional boundaries. Like universities, museums, hospitals, botanical gardens, and other institutions of scientific research and education, laboratories are typically located in cities - and both are subject to change. Using the example of Berlin and the institutionalization of experimental physiology by Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896), the project is dedicated to connecting aspects of modernity that usually have been researched separately: (1) The laboratory as a material and cultural workplace where experimental phenomena and scientific knowledge are

generated, and (2) the dynamic and far-reaching transformation of the urban space during the nineteenth-century industrial revolution. In the light of an “urban history of physiology” which analyzes the laboratory revolution in physiology in the context of the urban revolution, the fundamental aim of the project is to understand how cities and laboratories “cooperate” in the production of scientific novelty.

The study follows three major themes which illustrate how urban culture and everyday life, urban organization of labor and commerce, and urban power sources and technology extended through the laboratory walls and became part of the social and material culture of experimental investigation in the Berlin laboratories for physiology. (1) Organisms: In the nineteenth century, physiologists carried out experiments on objects such as frogs, cats, rabbits or dogs. Research fields, experimental setups, and instruments within physiology crystallized around such “model organisms.” (2) Instruments: This focus of the project is on the role of technology in the making of scientific novelty during the time span when Berlin became a technological metropolis. (3) Laboratories: The third focus of the project is inspired by those social scientists of scientific knowledge who highlighted the laboratory as a specific place of work designated for the factory-like production of new experimental phenomena.

Biology and the City. Berlin as a Space of Ecological Knowledge, 1945-Present

Jens Lachmund

Jens Lachmund’s project is a historical-sociological case study of the rise of urban ecology in Berlin.

Jens Lachmund

In this city, the last three decades have witnessed a growing importance of issues of nature conservation on the agenda of urban politics. At the same time, urban ecology has evolved as a distinct interdisciplinary research field which is closely related to environmental planning matters. In the context of these activities, the meaning and politics of urban space has become at least partly reorganized according to the precepts of ecological knowledge. What once had been seen primarily as a form of human life and habitation is now considered to be also a habitat for plants and animals, which has to be managed carefully under the supervision of ecological expertise.

Drawing upon the notion of the city as a “space of knowledge,” the project examined the various ways in which the epistemic practices of urban ecology were mutually connected to the material, political, and cultural history of the urban environment. It examined a period reaching from the end of World War II, when the first pioneering studies of the flora of the city were undertaken on bombed sites, up to the present.

The project analysed the development of urban ecology from three related angles. First, it was a study of Berlin’s trajectory as a major fieldwork space for the emergent discipline of urban ecology. Second, the project traced the various ways in which the production of ecological knowledge went together with the emergence of new ways of governing urban space. Beginning in the 1970s Berlin ecologists joined in a “discourse coalition” with local policy-makers, citizens groups, and various institutions which called for ecological planning and landscape promotion in towns. Third, the project examined the material creation of natural space that followed from the institutionalization of nature conservation activities in Berlin. Specifically, it traces the development of two sites - a former shunting station in West-Berlin, and a closed-down airport in the eastern part of the city.

Urban nature in Berlin. Nature park at a former railway station (Suedgelaende)
Related Conference (1-3 December 2000) and Book Project: Science and the City

Sven Dierig, Andrew Mendelsohn, Jens Lachmund

The workshop on “Science and the City” took place from 1-3 December, 2000. The organizers are currently editing a collection of essays that will further explore the issues of this workshop.

Recent historical and social studies of science have provided ample evidence about the role of social, cultural, and political contexts in the shaping of scientific knowledge. However, the city, as one of the most important of those contexts, has hitherto received remarkably scant interest from this perspective. Urban history, on the other hand - although quite aware of the role of science and technology in the shaping of the modern city - has tended to treat these as “black boxes” and has largely ignored the actual workings of science. It was the aim of the workshop to shed light on the role of the city as a complex material and symbolic environment which shapes and which in turn is shaped by the practices of science. Participants in the workshop came from various disciplines and research fields, including the history of science, general history, sociology, and cultural studies.

The workshop concentrated on the period after about 1800, that is, on the period in which the “modern” metropolis emerged. The conference opened with a session on the construction of scientific knowledge in various nineteenth-century cities. The second session traced some of the processes in which the city itself emerged as an object of scientific knowledge and management. The last session dealt with the creation of science cities in two different national contexts.

Great Expectations: Spatial Frontiers in Nineteenth- and Twentieth- Century Oceanography

Sabine Höhler

Sabine Höhler

In her project, Sabine Höhler investigates the scientific and technological conceptualization and colonization of oceanic space in nineteenth and twentieth-century oceanography. Addressing the question how the oceans changed from plane surfaces into volumes of three dimensions, thoroughly sounded and charted by the practices of deep-sea research, Höhler seeks to contribute to current approaches to the history of spaces as targets as well as effects of scientific knowledge production. Furthermore, she aims at providing new insights into the problematique of the scientific and technological representation of abstract spatial entities that defy access through direct observation.

In a first step, Höhler pursued the history of deep-sea sounding technology from wire sounding around 1850 to acoustic sounding in the early 1920s. She investigated the relation and interplay between conceptual, pictorial, and technological depth performance. In the course of a century, this instrumental approach to depth densely depicted the formerly opaque ocean in physical terms and transformed it into a technically and scientifically solid volume. In a second step, Höhler studied the connection of science and politics in the “German Atlantic Expedition” (1925-1927) to the South Atlantic Ocean. The endeavor aboard the “Meteor” was one of the prestigious projects of the “Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft,” the German association promoting the sciences in Weimar Germany. The expedition figures as a key element

Left: A Look into the Sounding Room aboard the “Meteor” (1925-1927), right: The Principle of Direct Echo Measurement

in the history of ocean depth sounding, since for the first time it extensively applied the new technology of acoustic sounding. In a third step, Höhler will focus on attempts to develop underwater housing with the aim of colonizing the ocean floor. She argues that the U. S. “Man in Sea” project and the U. S. Navy’s “Sealab” project, set up in the times of Cold War struggles during the 1960s, can be understood as an advanced stage in the tale of laborious but successful progress to appropriate ocean space. In this project, technoscience, nationalism, and geopolitics merged on a new level.

Anthropogeography and Human Geography in Germany and France around 1900

Iris Schröder

Iris Schröder

Iris Schröder’s project deals with the geographical traditions of “space-making” in Germany and France during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The general aim is to explore how and by which means spaces were shaped by geographical theories and geographical research in the field. The project explores how these spaces were transformed into “transportable” spatial representations in order to be reworked in geographical institutes, the contemporary new academic places for geographical knowledge production.

The project takes up arguments put forward in the currently debated spatial turn in historiography and combines them with new approaches from the history of science. It takes as its starting point the late nineteenth century, the key period of the rise of what has been called “the paradigm of territoriality.” The first part of the investigation concentrates on writing the nation’s geography by examining Friedrich Ratzel’s and Paul Vidal de la Blache’s two books on Germany ( Deutschland. Eine Einführung in die Heimatkunde, 1898) and France ( Tableau de la géographie de la France, 1903), respectively. The second part of the investigation consists of a close reading of Friedrich Ratzel’s and Vidal de la Blache’s works on anthropogeography and human geography. The basic conceptual issues implied in their enterprises will be compared to the notions of space found with other geographers such as Ferdinand von Richthofen, with the contemporary conceptualization of space and place to be found in the work of sociologists such as Georg Simmel, and that of mathematicians such as Felix Hausdorff. The third part of the investigation will explore the link between the French and the German geographical tradition and historiography. The assumption is that in this respect there are hidden similarities between, e.g., Friedrich Ratzel and Lucien Febvre, despite Febvre’s claim that there is a clear and deep divide between the German “determinist” and the French “possibilist” tradition.

The Technocratic Life

Andrew Mendelsohn

This project continued to study the emergence in the late nineteenth century of a kind of expert whose way of life and action came to be called technocratic. Research focused on German examples of knowers enlisted by the state to solve problems of health, war, and production. Considerable clarity was achieved by contrasting the authority and methods of this kind of expert with those identified in recent work by historians and sociologists on objectivity, standardization, and quantification. The most difficult research problem in the project remains exploring how a common pattern of personal and professional action came to be shared by experts of diverse social background, training, and area of expertise. Another on-going aspect of the project is sorting through and evaluating the variety of contemporary labels for and perceptions of experts in this period before the advent of the term “technocrat.”

Mental Equipment and Scientific Knowledge

Michael Hagner

The term “mental equipment” has been developed in the Annales School. Jacques Le Goff, for example, used the concept in his studies on the historical conditions of becoming conscious of breaks with the past and modernity. While this approach concerns the mechanisms of establishing modern values in general, Michael Hagner uses the concept to understand the mechanisms of knowledge production. In this perspective, mental equipment encompasses various aspects of the knowing subject such as virtues, passions, interests, idiosyncrasies. The aim is to combine culturally shaped (self-)images and value perceptions of scientists with their scientific practices.

Planning a series of case studies that range from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, Hagner has started to investigate the history of vertigo and attention. Scientists’ understanding of attention underwent fundamental alterations in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These transformations were linked to the role of the scientist as subject and as object in the self-experiment, as well as to the establishment of attention as a fundamental virtue of observation. The ambiguous and reflexive character of attention lay in the dual role which it came to assume as an experimental tool and as an object of investigation. Until the eighteenth century vertigo was regarded as a merely pathological phenomenon. Around 1800, however, the phenomena of vertigo and attention came to be seen as fundamental for a psychophysiological conceptualization of man.

Another case study focused on the notion of “Anschauung” in physical anthropology. The anthropologist Gustav Fritsch worked for years on a classification of races by comparing their hair with the aid of micro-photography. Fritsch contrasted his method to quantitative data derived from measurements and collected in tables and statistics. Against the research culture of measuring and counting, Fritsch highlighted the importance of “Anschauung” in the production and interpretation of photographs and thus reincorporated the experienced scientist into a method that was widely regarded as objective. Both case studies exemplify the general goal of this project, i. e. to question dichotomies like the scientist’s mind and body, or subjectivity and objectivity, and instead understand them as a mixtum compositum that flexibly and variably becomes incorporated into and in turn embodies different scientific activities.

Further Projects Related to the “History of Epistemic Objects, Spaces of Knowledge, and Changes in the Mental Equipment of Scientists”

Volker Hess

In his project on the development of experimental physiology in the realm of clinical knowledge between 1850 and 1870, Volker Hess concentrated on Berlin’s complex scientific and clinical landscape. In particular, he compared Ludwig Traube’s “experimental pathology,” which tended to subject the clinic to the precepts of experimentalism, with Theodor Frerich’s “physiological chemistry,” which tended on the contrary to establish physiological chemistry as a clinical science in its own right. Florence Vienne’s project explored the emergence of the “sterile man” as an epistemic figure and as an object of a medical “science of man” - andrology - from the turn of the twentieth century to the Nazi era. She argues that it was the transformation of Man into a racial being at the turn of the twentieth century that made the emergence of andrology possible, whose development she analyzed by using Michel Foucault’s interpretive tools of “genealogy,” “technologies of self,” and “biopower.” David Hyder finished his studies on “Phenomenological

David Hyder

Space and Measurement,” which concentrated on the work of Hermann Helmholtz and Edmund Husserl. Jutta Schickore completed her project on “The Microscopic Anatomy of the Retina and the History of Vision Studies,” which included case studies on Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus, Ernst Brücke, and Heinrich Müller. Christoph Hoffmann (together with Peter Berz ) finished a volume on the ballistic-photographic experiments of the physicists Ernst Mach and Peter Salcher in the 1880s.

Research Projects on “Concept Formation and the Uses of Theory”
Between Philosophy and Experiment: The History of Theoretical Biology, 1900-1945

Manfred Laubichler

Manfred Laubichler

Manfred Laubichler worked on a book project reconstructing the main developments in the history of theoretical biology between 1900 and 1945. Theoretical biology emerged as a discourse among biologists from various experimental disciplines, philosophers, and physicians during the early twentieth century. It was centred around the conceptual, epistemological, and methodological foundations of biology, the relation of biology to physics and metaphysics (the problem of the autonomy of biology), and the specificity and characteristics of biological processes (such as regulation, differentiation, inheritance, and organic transformation). Three dimensions of the discourse of theoretical biology can be discerned: the interpretation of empirical results, the development and analysis of a system of fundamental biological processes, and discussions of the methodological problems of biology. It engaged many of the foremost biologists of Europe (with Germany as its “heartland”) and, to a lesser extent, the United States, and was part of larger cultural and scientific trends, such as widespread attempts to popularize science.

Though characterized by a plurality of viewpoints and interests, one can discern three distinct periods in the development of “theoretical biology.” The first phase lasted from about 1900 to the end of World War I and was dominated by concerns to establish the autonomy of biology as a science and by questions of embryology, morphology, and physiology. These questions remained important during the second period (1919 to 1933) but were now joined by problems of genetics and an increasing number of attempts at a synthesis. The last period (1933 to the end of World War II) was characterized by several new developments. Conceptually, ecology and the study of animal behavior became a major part of the discussions of theoretical biology. With the establishment of international journals and structured networks of communication, theoretical biology began to acquire disciplinary status. The political upheavals in Germany had a strong impact in this period, through both the forced emigration of core contributors as well as the increasingly ideological emphasis invested in certain areas of German biology.

Epistemic-Moral Hybrids: Ecology, Evolution and the Ethics of Nature 1925-1970

Thomas Potthast

Thomas Potthast

Thomas Potthast investigated the links between ecology, evolutionary biology, and ethics in twentieth-century Germany, with the goal to understand how holistic conceptions of ecology over time became more and more identified with morally laden environmental issues. In particular, case studies of the networks around two influential German ecologists, freshwater biologist August Thienemann and zoologist/entomologist Karl Friederichs were conducted and compared with the role played by evolutionary biologist Konrad Lorenz. Theory formation and research practices, as well as the normative agendas of individual scientists, institutions, and disciplines, were taken into account. On a methodological level, the concept of “epistemic-moral hybrids” was developed as a general reading frame for the relations between ethics and the sciences of the organism.

Two major steps in the transformation of holistic ecology from the Weimar period to Nazi Germany can be identified. The first one is epitomized by the architect Alwin Seifert’s efforts to join the agenda of German “völkisch” environmentalism after the “Reichsnaturschutzgesetz” of 1935 and the “ecological” critique of German landscape engineering. At the same time, Thienemann’s limnological research program of a world-wide lake typology encountered severe problems through conflicting data from within. The second transition was triggered by the failure of this huge generalizing project as well as by the disintegration of the Nazi empire. Instead, in 1943-44, Thienemann began to develop an environmentally inspired individualistic morality; Friederichs followed shortly after. After the defeat of Germany, doomsday literature on environmental degradation was taken up by ecologists in order to put their science in a new moral context that maintained the primacy of the individual. In this move Konrad Lorenz played an important role, linking ecological perspectives with an evolutionary ethology of degradation.

A system of biological disciplines (Friederichs 1937) outlined in the context of a proposal for highschool and university teaching
“Entomological fieldwork in the woods engaging the family” (Friederichs 1960-1964, Autobiography, typoscript, Staatsbibliothek PK Berlin)

These results reveal significant epistemological characteristics in holistic approaches to ecology and evolution: (1) the claim to improve science by adding a “synthetic” dimension to the analytic regime; (2) the attempt to outline a metascience that explicitely includes aspects of “Sinnforschung;” and (3) to try to make ethical issues themselves scientific. In all three cases, the self-perceived role of the “humanistically” educated biologist is to function as a necessary mediator who is able to bring moral and epistemological concerns into an appropriate relation.

A Cultural History of Heredity and its Knowledge Forms

Staffan Müller-Wille, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Wolfgang Lefèvre, Peter McLaughlin

This project centres on the knowledge of “heredity” and the scientific, technological, medical, and jurisdictional practices in which it was materially entrenched and unfolded its effects. The general aim is to explore the changing practices, standards, and conceptual architectures shaping the knowledge of heredity in a “longue durée” perspective and to understand the genesis of the modern, naturalistic conception of heredity.

The project is collaborative and depends on expertise from various historical disciplines, such as history of medicine, law, economics, and literature as well as political history and anthropology. It will take the form of a series of five workshops, each of them concentrating on a specific “epoch” in the cultural history of heredity and its corresponding knowledge forms. A first workshop, focussing on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, took place in May 2001 (see below), and a second workshop is planned for January 2003. The workshop in 2001 led to a first general result regarding the distinction of epochs in the history of heredity: The received turning points “around 1800” and “around 1900” appear of only limited value. A more promising periodization would comprise the following phases: a first one, extending from the late seventeenth century to the 1780s, in which “heredity” came into existence in several separate but well defined fields, such as horticulture or pathology; a second one, lasting to the middle of the nineteenth century, in which “heredity” became central to the life sciences; a third one, covering the period from 1870 to the 1930s, in which “heredity” became thoroughly mathematized; a fourth one from the 1930s to the 1970s, in which “heredity” went “molecular”; and, finally, from the 1970s to the present, a fifth one, characterized by the technological application and commodification of hereditary knowledge.

The workshop series will follow this chronological scheme. The results of the workshops will be published in three essay collections directed to an expert public. Beyond that, a book on the cultural history of heredity is planned that accounts for the projects’ findings in a form suited to reach a broader public.

First Workshop: A Cultural History of Heredity: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, May 25-26, 2001

Peter McLaughlin, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Staffan Müller-Wille

This workshop concentrated on the late seventeenth and eighteenth century and assembled historians of science, medicine, politics and literature from the United States, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Discussion turned around two questions: 1), whether a concept of heredity existed at all in this period; and 2) to what extent eighteenth-century theories of generation were guided by empirical experience. In regard to the first question, several contributors showed that there existed several isolated and well-defined fields - the definition of specific difference in natural history, the explanation of hereditary diseases in pathology, political organisation of colonial societies according to racial characteristics, and the application of hybridisation in plant breeding - structured by the recognition of hereditary transmission of differential characters in the eighteenth century, but that there was at the same time no general concept of heredity underlying the discourse of the life sciences. In regard to the second question, the workshop disclosed that at least some of the rich spectrum of theoretical approaches to generation in the 18th century - only insufficiently captured by the dichotomy of preformation vs. epigenesis - was rather determined by different positions with respect to the politics and poetics of production than by a secured and well-defined domain of empirical data. The contributions will be published together with contributions to a follow-up workshop, which will concentrate on the rise of a biological concept of heredity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

The Subversion of Biology by Genetics 1890-1950

Staffan Müller-Wille

Staffan Müller-Wille

As part of the long term project on the cultural history of heredity (), this project tries to understand the interplay of experiment and theory formation in the establishment of pre-molecular, classical genetics after the discovery of Mendel’s laws in 1900.

In general, historians of biology have viewed the rise of classical genetics retrospectively as an agonistic struggle to establish a new theoretical foundation for biology as a whole, with the so-called “evolutionary synthesis” of the late 1930s as the successful outcome of this struggle. Müller-Wille’s investigation attacks the same process from a different, prospective point of view by taking classical genetics as what it was in its beginnings, namely a specialised research field with an autonomous set of experimental methods centered around the artificial crossing of organisms. Starting from this restricted experimental approach, classical genetics had to prevail against considerable opposition from contemporary biological theory which tended to view organisms as well-adapted wholes. Thus theory formation, in the case of classical genetics, does not appear as an ex post justification and synthesis of antecedent motives and results, but rather as a creative, transgressive, and counter-intuitive process subverting the various extant discourses of the life sciences in favour of a new, more general, but less unified discursive regime.

This general perspective of Müller-Wille’s project makes it necessary to concentrate on particular case studies. A first one consisted in the detailed investigation of the institutional and experimental records of the Swedish Seed Association’s experimental station at Svalöf. On the basis of these records, a detailed reconstruction of some of the experiments carried out between 1892 and 1905 was conducted. It revealed that the transition to a Mendelian type of experiments encountered considerable epistemological obstacles in the form of firmly institutionalised research practices, which did not allow one to represent descendent generations as populations characterized by numerical ratios. For this, a separate system of tabulation and specific mathematical tools had to be created at the expense of previously employed representational techniques.

Page on “new, artificial crosses” from the pedigree records of the Swedish Seed Association for the year 1903. © Archives of Svalöf-Weibull AB, Svalöf, Sweden

This result indicates that the genetic discourse from its very beginnings conflicted with and tended to dissolve well-entrenched discourses of biology (most notably the taxonomic discourse) centered around conceptions of organism and type, that were holistic in regard to the objects of the genetic discourse, hereditary “unit-characters” and populations. Along this line, a further case study was taken up which looks at the consensual demise of the taxonomic concept of “race” by geneticists as well as sociologists in the UNESCO Statement on Race in 1950. It is planned to build up an electronic database of texts and images relating to experimental research in genetics in collaboration with the Virtual Laboratory.

On Text and Pictures in Natural History, 1760-1820

Janina Wellmann

Janina Wellmann

Janina Wellmann’s project deals with the interplay of texts and images in natural history explanations, notably in the transitory period between the later eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. In the past decade, historians and philosophers of science have paid increasing attention to both the “rhetorical” and “pictorial” components of science, and to their respective roles in practices of knowledge production. However, these two aspects have been almost always considered irrespective of each other: The narrative patterns of scientific texts have been usually examined with little attention to accompanying images, while the visual culture of science has been discussed without regard to accompanying texts. In contrast, Wellmann argues that in the period between 1760 and 1820 text and image in natural history enter into a new reciprocity: They amalgamate into an indissoluble unity of knowledge production which played a crucial role in the transformation of natural history into biology - conceived as the study of life - around 1800.

The project has so far focused on two chapters in the history of science of this period. First, the Haller-Wolff debate on the development of the chick embryo: This debate is one of the best-known scientific controversies of the eighteenth century. Typically, it has been told as a decisive battle between two competing theories of generation - preformation versus epigenesis. Wellmann can show that Wolff’s conception of epigenesis, i.e. the genesis of form out of homogeneous matter, demanded not only a new mutual dependence between text and image but also a new kind of pictorical representation itself. Second, metamorphosis in plant and insect life: Beginning with Harvey in the seventeenth century and ending with Johann Moritz David Herold’s Entwickelungsgeschichte der Schmetterlinge of 1815, Wellmann shows how metamorphosis was understood only when it was no longer regarded as a succession of different stages in insect life, but as a process of substitution of organic parts. As with Wolff in embryology, a new type of drawing had to be invented by both Goethe and Herold, by which the changing parts in the insect body were isolated and their transformation visually traced in time.

The project will proceed with case studies from embryology on the work of Theodor Soemmerring and Christian Heinrich Pander, as well as from art with the illuminated books by William Blake. By extending her study to art history, Wellmann hopes to strengthen her argument that new relations between text and image in science and art brought about a general change in the way life processes were conceived around 1800.

Müller’s Lab: A Literary Analysis of Scientific Practice and the Emergence of Scientific Ideas

Laura Otis

Laura Otis

To study the way that ideas in scientific laboratories emerge, Otis analyzes the dynamics of physiologist Johannes Müller’s group in Berlin, 1833-58. Among the scientists who worked with Müller during this time were anatomists Jakob Henle and Theodor Schwann, pathologist Rudolf Virchow (as a medical student, not as a research assistant), physiologists Emil du Bois-Reymond and Hermann von Helmholtz, and embryologists Robert Remak and Ernst Haeckel. When Müller’s students reconstructed their intellectual development, they created their own retrospective portraits of Müller, so that historians are presented with a collage of contradictory images. Through close readings of these students’ and Müller’s own scientific publications, letters, memorial addresses, and archival remnants, Otis attempts to determine how the personal relationships in Müller’s workspace affected the scientific decisions made there. Her examination of scientists’ word choice and narrative strategies - especially in their own self-descriptions - aims to open a new portal to scientific epistemology.

A microhistory of Müller’s group offers special insights into the larger question of how scientific ideas develop, because he and his students performed their key experiments while the concept of the university-affiliated laboratory was just emerging. The project has two preliminary, practical goals: First, to map out the space in which Müller’s group worked in order to comprehend their concept of a “lab.” Müller and his group worked in small rooms adjacent to teaching and exhibition halls; in makeshift oceanographic stations; and in their own living quarters. The intimacy of their working conditions heightened the effect of their personal conflicts. The second aim is a related one: to understand their everyday relationships with their instruments and set-ups, many of which they designed and built themselves. The long-term goal of this research is a book on laboratories and the everyday practice of science that will be accessible to scientists, literary scholars, and educated lay readers as well as historians of science.

Nineteenth-Century Attempts Towards Molecular Physiology

Maria Yamalidou

Following her doctoral thesis on nineteenth-century British molecular science, Maria Yamalidou’s research was centred on the work of John Hughes Bennett, Professor at Edinburgh University, especially on his efforts to explain certain physiological phenomena in molecular terms. Although the “physiological molecule” has an autonomous presence in the historiography of science, Yamalidou attempted to investigate the early usage of molecular terminology in physiology as a case of interaction between different scientific discourses, and to clarify the embeddedness of this interaction in the cultural and social context. Hence, her investigation focused on the interaction of the bodies of knowledge represented by physics and physiology, especially in the cases of solutions and of osmosis; on the role that the orientation of Victorians towards antiquity played in the establishment of the importance of elementary particles of living matter; on the role that medical rhetoric, especially the relation between microscopic observations and theoretical schemata, played in the negotiations about the hierarchy of scientific fields; and on the interface between methodological discussions and religious preoccupations. The epistemological dimension of her work concerned the interaction between pictorial representation and narrative in physiological treatises of this period.

Biological Sociology on Trial: The Durkheimian Criticism of Biological Models for the Human Sciences

Daniela Barberis

Daniela Barberis

The project of Daniela Barberis examines the debates between the Durkheimian group and members of several biologically based social scientific disciplines at the end of the nineteenth century in France. The Année sociologique, the Durkheimian’s journal, devoted a considerable effort to criticizing biologically based models for sociology and other sciences of man. These models were dominant in the social sciences in 1897, the year the journal was founded, and used in different degrees to constitute sociology as a science. The Année defended the idea that the destiny of man was not determined by his organism, and that the gathering of men and women into societies produced properly social phenomena that needed to be studied as such.

The critiques of the Année were directed at a broad spectrum of disciplines, such as the racial anthropology of Paul Broca, the organicist sociology of René Worms, the social psychology of LeBon, the new “anthroposociology” of Georges Vacher de la Lapouge, the Italian criminological school of Lombroso, and its French counterpart, led by Alexandre Lacassagne. The division of labor typical of the Année also applied to the critiques of biologically based social sciences; individuals had specific areas of expertise and attacked those disciplines that came within their realm. The critique of racial and organicist theories was linked, for the Durkheimians, with the defense of egalitarian social ideals and with the rejection of the anti-Semitism prominent in the Dreyfus affair. Barberis’s project aims to show that the final predominance of Durkheim’s sociology was connected to a series of factors ranging from debates about the validity of specific theories to moral concerns with the equality of individuals. Barberis is currently working on Bouglé, who was in charge of a “Biological Sociology” section in the Année sociologique.

History of Science and Philosophy of Science

Friedrich Steinle, Jutta Schickore

In connection with his other projects, Friedrich Steinle has been focusing on the question of how historical and philosophical approaches to the understanding of science relate to each other. This relation was the subject of intense discussion during the 1970s, but the topic has lost prominence since the 1980s. The two fields seem again to be drifting apart. In its aim to understand science as part of general culture, historiography sometimes loses sight of the specificities of knowledge and the conditions of its generation. While recent historical studies have opened rich perspectives on cultural and social aspects of science, especially on its material culture, the epistemic process itself often remains only vaguely characterized. Philosophy of science, in contrast, tends to take exactly that move as an excuse to remain in self-contained sterility, dealing with concepts of disembodied knowledge and avoiding the challenges that arise from studies of scientific practice.

This mutual neglect calls for studies that combine serious historical research with philosophical analysis. Scientists, while being well aware of the local specificities of their particular experiences, are at the same time convinced that there is something to be learned beyond the particular case, and that conviction plays an essential role in guiding research. Research practice takes place exactly in the sensitive region between instability and stability, the particular and the general, the local and the global. Understanding how these tensions are dealt with requires a close intertwining of historical and philosophical analysis. How to deal with, for example, the inherent antagonisms of the two approaches, such as: contextualizing vs. decontextualizing, using actors’s categories vs. modern ones, and concentrating on the specificities of individual cases vs. abstracting from them? A workshop organized by Friedrich Steinle and Jutta Schickore held in February 2002 pursued this discussion by challenging the traditional distinction between the contexts of discovery and justification.

Further Projects Related to “Concept Formation and the Uses of Theory”

During his visit in Berlin, Marcel Weber pursued his book project “Philosophy of Experimental Biology” which deals with some of the major issues in philosophy of science on the basis of historical case studies. The main focus of the book is experimental approaches in twentieth century genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and developmental biology. Weber tries to integrate the results of recent work in the history of biology with philosophy of science from the analytic tradition. The following two dissertation projects have been completed: Ohad Parnes, “Agents of Life and Disease,” and Christina Brandt, “Metaphors and the Dynamics of Science: Research on the Tobacco Mosaic Virus in Germany, 1940-1960.” Denis Thieffry and Reinhard Mocek have completed their research projects on the “History of the Notion of Genetic Regulation and its Bearing on Embryology” and “Theory Formation in Developmental Physiology in Germany in the 1930s-1940s,” respectively.

Other Projects

Michael C. Carhart

Michael C. Carhart, Lorenz Krüger Fellow of the academic year 2000-2001, works on the history of the notion and discipline of “Cultural History.” He examines especially the period between the 1770s and the 1790s when cultural history emerged as a new genre in the European human sciences.