Talk of a global transformation from an industrial to a knowledge-based society is a characteristic of our time. Since the seventeenth and especially since the nineteenth century scientific knowledge has been one of the determinative factors in culture and society, and in the present as well there is no longer any doubt that the sciences, culture, politics and society are mutually dependent on one another. That is why the emergence and transformations of the modern knowledge society from the Renaissance to the present has become an international research field. Central issues in this field are cultural transformations such as global and intercultural knowledge transfer or the popularization of science. Equally central in this context are transformations of the sciences themselves as well as their interactions with one another. Particularly relevant for contemporary history are the problematic relationships of science and politics from the turn of the twentieth century through the two world wars and in modern dictatorships. By now it is generally recognized that historical and philosophical studies of science are necessary in order to conceptualize and respond to contemporary cultural and science policy issues in appropriate historical depth.
Developments in the Habsburg monarchy since 1848 and in Austria since 1919 are a significant part of this larger story. Systematic research on the sciences in historical context has been underway in Austria, and particularly at the University of Vienna, for some time. Initial efforts with regard to recent history focused on the dismissal and forced migration of scientists and scholars after the Nazi takeover in 1938, the history of the Vienna Circle, and related developments in the history of the social sciences. More recent work has focused, for example, on science, politics and the public sphere since the late nineteenth century, as well as the sciences under Nazism. However, historical studies of the natural sciences in Austria since 1848 have not been carried out with comparable intensity. This is the case even though it is well known that a network of modern scientific research institutions began to emerge in the Habsburg Monarchy in the 1850s, that this science system produced significant, indeed outstanding research achievements symbolized by names such as Josef Loschmidt, Ludwig Boltzmann and many others, and excellent library and archival resources are available for such studies. Precisely these resources form a cultural heritage that has been neglected for far too long. Equally in need of research is the issue of continuity and change in the sciences in Austria during the interwar period, under Nazism and especially since 1945. Serious work in all of these topic areas requires a broad European perspective and comparison with developments in other parts of the world as well. The need has been recognized to advance research in history and philosophy of science at an internationally recognized level at the University of Vienna by increasing and intensifying interdisciplinary cooperation. Such collaborations involving historians working in history of science as well as representatives of the natural sciences and philosophy have already begun in individual cases, to be detailed below. The purpose of the proposed Initiativkolleg "The Sciences in Historical Context" is to formalize these collaborative relationships and to organize them more systematically.
Specifically, the Kolleg is conceived as a first step toward establishing an interdisciplinary doctoral program in History and Philosophy of Science that will bring together the natural sciences and mathematics with the humanities in a common, focused curriculum. A central feature of the program is that dissertations carried out in this framework are to be jointly supervised by a historian and a natural scientist. The participants hope and expect that in the longer term the synergies resulting from this intensified collaboration, supplemented and enriched through international cooperation, will lead to the establishment of a center of excellence capable of participating in projects with European and international scope.
The Initiativkolleg is part of a wider program of the University of Vienna. For more Information about this program click here! There you will also find information about the other Kollegs.
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Participating Faculties and Departments
The Initiativkolleg "The Sciences in Historical Context" includes participants from departments in the following five Faculties:
- Faculty of Life Sciences
- Faculty of Physics
- Faculty of Mathematics
- Faculty of Philosophy and Education
- Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies
- Support and eventual participation have also been promised from the Faculty of Chemistry.
For administrative purposes the Kolleg has been assigned to the Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies (Dean: Prof. Michael Schwarz) as part of the above-mentioned research area (Fakultätsschwerpunkt) "History of Science - Cultures of Knowledge - Knowledge Societies", from which the thematic and methodical foundations of the Kolleg are drawn.
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- Central Library for Physics (Zentralbibliothek für Physik), Hofrat Dr. Wolfgang Kerber, Director
- Vienna Circle Institute (Institut Wiener Kreis), Univ.-Prof. Dr. Friedrich Stadler, Director
- Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research
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The following established programs in the field of history and philosophy of science outside Austria have expressed interest in establishing collaborative relationships with the Initiativkolleg "The Sciences in Historical Context":
- Program in History and Philosophy of Science / Center for Law, Biology and Politics, Arizona State University (Heads: Prof. Dr. Richard Creath / Prof. Dr. Jane Maienschein)
- Inter-University Center for History of Science and Technology, Munich (Univ.-Prof. Dr. Helmuth Trischler)
- Max-Planck-Institute for History of Science, Berlin (Co-Director, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Hans-Jörg Rheinberger)
- Chair for History of Science, Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main (Prof. Dr. Moritz Epple)
- Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, England (Prof. Simon Schaffer)
- Department of History, Chair for History of Science, Humboldt University of Berlin (Prof. Dr. Rüdiger vom Bruch)
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