Jürgen Renn

Director (Since 1994)

Dr., Professor, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Jürgen Renn and his group undertake research on the structural changes in systems of knowledge. Their aim is to develop a theoretical understanding of knowledge evolution, taking into account its epistemic, social, and material dimensions. As groundwork for such a theoretical approach to the history of knowledge, he has been studying some of the great transformations of systems of physical knowledge, such as the origin of theoretical science in antiquity, the emergence of classical mechanics in the early modern period, and the revolutions of modern physics in the early twentieth century. In addition to this longitudinal perspective on the evolution of knowledge, he and his collaborators have developed a transversal approach, studying dissemination and transformation processes of knowledge across cultural boundaries, as well as processes of globalization and the historical origins and co-evolutionary dynamics leading into the Anthropocene.
An early pioneer of the Digital Humanities and the Open Access Movement, he is a co-initiator of the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities launched by the MPG in 2003 and, together with his colleagues, has created the Edition Open Access platform for open access publication. He has also been responsible for numerous major exhibitions on the history of science, from Albert Einstein—Chief Engineer of the Universe to Archimede. Arte e scienza dell’invenzione. 
Jürgen Renn is honorary professor for History of Science at both the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Freie Universität Berlin. He has taught at Boston University, at the ETH in Zurich, and at the University of Tel Aviv. He has held visiting positions in Vienna, Bergamo, Pavia, and at CalTech. He is a member of the Leopoldina as well as of further national and international scientific and editorial boards. In 2011 he won the Premio Anassilaos International. In 2014, he won the ESHS Neuenschwander Prize and the Premio Internazionale Marco & Alberto Ippolito and was awarded the Max Planck Communitas Award and the Francis Bacon Award. From 2017–2019, Jürgen Renn served as Chairperson of the Humanities Sciences Section of the Max Planck Society. His most recent publication is The Evolution of Knowledge: Rethinking Science for the Anthropocene (forthcoming in 2020, Princeton University Press).


Anthropocene Curriculum


Anthropocene Knowledge: Earth History in the Making


Atlas of Innovations


Berlin Center for Machine Learning (BZML)


Berlin Institute for the Foundations of Learning and Data (BIFOLD)


Convivencia. Iberian to Global Dynamics (500–1750)


History and Foundations of Quantum Field Theory


IV. Knowledge in and of the Anthropocene


Albert Einstein - Chief Engineer of the Universe (Exhibition 2005)


Continuity and Epistemic Developments of Astronomical Knowledge in the Longue Durée: The Sphaera-tradition


Development of Mechanical Knowledge in China


Early Modern Mechanics: Benedetti


Knowledge as a Fellow Traveler


Knowledge of Astronomy and the Invention of the Telescope: International Year of Astronomy 2009


The Genesis of General Relativity (Four-Volume Edition)


Selected Publications

Laubichler, M. D., Wintergrün, D., Renn, J., Lalli, R., & Valleriani, M. (2015). Netzwerke als Wissensspeicher. Berlin: Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte.

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Rosol, C., Steininger, B., Renn, J., & Schlögl, R. (2018). On the age of computation in the epoch of humankind. Nature; Nature Publishing Group, London, (563), 7733-7738.

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Renn, J. (2020). The evolution of knowledge: rethinking science for the Anthropocene. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Max Planck Society (2019). Leonardo's intellectual cosmos. Spark: catalysts for insight, (4), 26-33.

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Selected Media

Selected Books

News & Press

Jürgen Renn and Roberto Lalli in Süddeutsche Zeitung on the topic of peer review


New BMBF-funded BIFOLD artificial intelligence project features in Tagesspiegel


MPIWG announced as partner of the New Berlin Institute for the Foundations of Learning and Data (BIFOLD)


Institute Events

Institute's Colloquium

History of Science for the Anthropocene

Book Launch

Science, (Anti-)Communism and Diplomacy. The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs in the Early Cold War


Anthropocene and Public Health


How Do New Concepts Emerge? On New Knowledge, Old Patterns of Thought, and Structural Changes


25 Years of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

500th Anniversary Event

Leonardo da Vinci. An Inquisitive Man: Technologist, Scientist, and Artist


Freunde der offenen Gesellschaft


Wie entsteht die moderne Wissenschaft / Wie entstehen wissenschaftliche Disziplinen?


Thomas Young and the Decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphs


Visualization of Heavens II


Visualization of Heavens I


Die Evolution des Wissens

External/Cooperation Event

Comenius-Garten: Eröffnung der Werkstatt mit Gewächshaus


Energy Transformations. Perspectives from the Humanities


Political Epistemology I


Presentations, Talks, & Teaching Activities

History of Knowledge in the Anthropocene

FU Berlin, ABV Modul Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft, Vorlesung zu Wissenschaftsgeschichte

The Formative Years of Relativity

Bologna, Università degli Studi di Bologna

La relation d’Albert Einstein avec Max Planck

Lausanne,“Quand le droit rencontre la relativité Soirée Albert Einstein”

Extended Evolution of Knowledge. The Governance of Innovation Processes. With Manfred Laubichler

Hannover, Seventh International Conference on Integrated History and Philosophy of Science: The Evolution of Knowledge

The Formative Years of Relativity. With Hanoch Gutfreund

Colloque « Einstein au Collège de France »

The Evolution of Knowledge

University of Urbino

Transformations of Energy Systems—Historical Perspectives on the Anthropocene. A New Research Environment within the Max Planck Society

Symposium at the Harnack Haus, Berlin  

Die Evolution des Wissens

12. Thomsen-Vorlesung, Ethnologisches Museum Berlin

Knowledge in the Anthropocene


Gravitationswellen und die wechselvolle Geschichte der Relativitätstheorie

Göttinger Literaturherbst

How Many Times Have the Natural Sciences Emerged? With Matthias Schemmel

International Symposium on China and the World in the Global History of Science and Technology

Gravitationswellen und die wechselvolle Geschichte der Relativitätstheorie

21. Leibniz-Kolleg Potsdam

Gravitationswellen und die wechselvolle Geschichte der Relativitätstheorie

Akademie der Wissenschaften, Hamburg

Gravitationswellen und die wechselvolle Geschichte der Relativitätstheorie

Leopoldina Jahresempfang 2017, Halle

Impressions from the History of the BMS

Perspectives Committee Meeting Biology and Medicine Section, GV, Munich

How Many Times Have the Natural Sciences Emerged?

Secularity and the Disciplines: A Farewell Conference for Gabriel Motzkin

Forschungsprogramm Geschichte der MPG (1948–2002)

Präsidialkreis der MPG, Berlin

Wie oft sind die Naturwissenschaften entstanden? With Matthias Schemmel

Jahresversammlung der Leopoldina, Halle

Ammoniak: Wie eine epochale Erfindung das Leben der Menschen und die Arbeit der Chemiker verändert

GDNÄ Jahresversammlung, Greifswald

The Globalization of Knowledge in History: The Perspective of Historical Epistemology

Konferenz Towards a Global History of Ideas, Erfurt

Mach’s Evolutionary Conception of Knowledge. With Manfred Laubichler

Universität Wien

The Genesis and Renaissance of General Relativity

100 Years of GR, Warschau

La renaissance de la théorie de la gravitation d'Einstein

Cycle de conférence: Les mécanos de la Générale: Einstein, 100 ans de relativité générale, Paris

The Emergence of the Tension between Quantum Theroy and Gravity. With Alexander Blum

Colloquium am Albert Einstein Institut, Golm

Die Entstehung und Renaissance der Allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie

Conference Series: Gravitation 2015, University of Vienna

Wissenschaft als Menschheitsgedächtnis und Handlungspotential – in zehn Thesen. With Manfred Laubichler, Bernd Scherer und Helge Wendt

Salzburger Hochschulwochen

Einstein als Problemlöser: Die Rolle von Heuristik bei der Entwicklung der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie

DPG Lehrerfortbildung Bad Honnef

The Genesis and Renaissance of General Relativity

Conference: Convergence. Im Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada

Die MPG zwischen 1948 und 2002: Auftakt eines Forschungsprogramms

CPT and GSHS- Section, Meeting at the Annual Assembly, Berlin

The Value of Collections for Researchers in the Humanities

Fiesole Retreat—Preconference, HU Berlin

Die Entstehung und Wiedergeburt der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie

DPG Frühjahrstagung, TU Berlin

Netzwerke des Wissens im 21. Jahrhundert

Die Zukunft der Wissensspeicher, Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften und Künste, Düsseldorf

Historical Aspects of How the General Relativity Came About

Conference: 100th Anniversary of General Relativity, Cambridge

A Special Relationship: Turning Points in the History of German-Israeli Scientific Cooperation. With Hanoch Gutfreund

Minerva Advisory Board Meeting, Tel Aviv

The Genesis of General Relativity from Philosophy to Cosmology

Paris, Séminaire d’Historie et Philosophie de la Physique-Paris

The Renaissance of General Relativity: A New Reading. With Alex Blum

Jerusalem Meeting on Space—Time Theories

Einstein’s 1913 Vienna Lecture: Modeling Gravitational theory on Electrodynamics. With Michel Janssen

Jerusalem Meeting on Space—Time Theories

Einstein’s Vienna Lecture: Modeling Gravitational theory on Electrodynamics. With Michel Janssen

Conference on Einstein and the relation between physics and mathematics, Chicago

Open Access Publikationen: Formen und Entwicklungen im akademischen Bereich. With Matteo Valleriani und Dirk Wintergrün

Workshop on Online Publishing in Florence, Italy

From the History of Science to the Evolution of Knowledge—and Back

6th International Conference for the European Society for the History of Science, Lisbon

The Genesis of General Relativity—from Philosophy to Cosmology

Summerschool Tübingen

On the Evolution of Knowledge: From Cooperative Action to Science

Integrated History and Philosophy of Science—&HPS5 in Wien

The Struggle for an Autonomy of Knowledge: Rethinking Cultural Abstractions

Knowledge in this Era: Historical Perspecitves, Contemporary Challenges and the Future of Higher Education, Tel Aviv

Inauguration: Archimede, arte e scienza dell' invenzione

Musei Capitolini, Roma

From Classical Mechanics to Quantum Mechanics. Schroedinger and Umdeutung

Seven Pines Symposium: The Conceptual Development of Quantum Physics, Minnesota

Einsteins Entdeckung der Relativitaetstheorie

Planetarium am Insulaner, Berlin

Einstein’s Path to General Relativity

Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES ), Paris

Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities + 10 Commitment of the Max Planck Society and International Research and Cultural Organisations

UNESCO, First WSIS+10 Review Meeting, Paris

The Space of Relativistic Mechanics / Der Raum der relativistischen Mechanik

XIV. Colloquio del Lessico Intellettuale Europeo (ILIESI), Roma

Keynote Lecture: Anthropocenic Research Forum

Das Anthropozaen-Projekt. Eine Eroeffnung, Berlin

Contingentia. Transformationen des Zufalls. Zufaelle der Transformation

Humboldt University Berlin

Einstein as a Cosmopolitan (Plenary Lecture)

The 5th conference of the European Society for the History of Science, University of Athens

Festvortrag: Die Globalisierung des Wissens und ihre Geschichte

Universitaet Erlangen

Utilitas oder Curiositas. Zur Bedeutung der Wissenschaftsakademien heute

„Wissenschaftsakademien im Zeitalter der Ideologien“, LEOPOLDINA und HU Berlin, Halle

Freier Zugang zu kulturellem Erbe: eine Zwischenbilanz

Juedisches Museum, Berlin

Science et Representations. Colloque International en memorie de Pierre Souffrin

Biblioteca Leonardiana di Vinci, VINCI

Globalization of Knowledge and Its Consequences

University of Oslo

Einstein at the Crossroads between Quantum- and Relativity Physics

The International Radiation Symposium 2012, Berlin

Ethik – eine Selbstreflexion der Wissenschaft

FU Berlin, Keynote Lecture

The Globalization of Knowledge in History

8th meeting of STEP ( Science and Technology in the European Periphery), Corfu National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, Keynote Lecture

C.F. von Weizsaecker in den Netzwerken der MPG

Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina, Halle

The Globalization of Knowledge in History

8th meeting of STEP (Science and Technology in the European Periphery), Corfu National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, Keynote Lecture

Vor 400 Jahren: Galileo Galilei Vollendet die kopernikanische Wende

Evangelische Akademie Tutzing, Tagung „Himmels(t)raum“

Die Geschichte der Wellenmechanik

FU Berlin, Akademische Abschlussfeier des Fachbereichs Physik, Berlin

History of Science in Action: Creating and Publishing Virtual Knowledge Spaces

EFC Research Forum Stakeholders’ Conference, Barcelona

Einstein as a Missionary of Science

Residencia de Estudiantes Madrid

The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin: The Anthropocene from a Humanities’ Perspective

Symposium of the Max Planck Society, Havana Cuba

Wissenschaftsgeschichte im Anthropozän

Wozu Wissenschaftsgeschichte? Ziele und Wege, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften

The Anthropocene and the History of Science

The Anthropocene: Challenging the Disciplines, Universität Wien