Jürgen Renn

Director (Since 1994)

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

Jürgen Renn, together with his group, researches structural changes in systems of knowledge. The 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.
He has been engaged from the very start in 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 has created, together with his colleagues, 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. Jürgen Renn is currently serving as Chairperson of the Humanities Sciences Section of the Max Planck Society.


Anthropocene Curriculum


Anthropocene Knowledge: Earth History in the Making


Atlas of Innovations


Convivencia. Iberian to Global Dynamics (500–1750)


History and Foundations of Quantum Field Theory


Material Practices: Earth in the Making


Networks, Network Science, and Knowledge Graphs


Perspectives on the Technosphere


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


Early Modern Mechanics: Benedetti


Selected Publications

Renn, J., & Engler, O. (2018). Gespaltene Vernunft: Einstein - Fleck - Schlick. Berlin: Mattes & Seitz.

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Renn, J., & Schlögl, R. (2018). Rationale Revolution = Warum wir einen radikalen Systemwechsel brauchen. Manifest zur Energiewende. Der Tagesspiegel, (04.03.2018), B3.

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Kolboske, B., Renn, J., Schmaltz, F., Schwerin, A. v., & Topp, S. (2018). Die Anfänge eines Forschungsriesen. Damals: das Magazin für Geschichte, (2), 10-13.

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Engler, F. O., Renn, J., & Schemmel, M. (2018). Creating room for historical rationality. Isis, 109(1), 87-91. doi:10.1086/697180.

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Institute Events


Die Entstehung und Renaissance der Allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie


Reden: Im Zentrum des Übels. Leben mit Anthropozän

Book Presentation

Galileo Galilei—New Sources


Das Anthropozän


Presentations, Talks, & Teaching Activities

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 oft he 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 Formative Years of Relativity

Colloque « Einstein au Collège de France »

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

Symposium at the Harnack Haus, Berlin  

The Evolution of Knowledge

University of Urbino