Two Cultures of Sciences

The Research Group

In modernity, it is a basic assumption about science that it is divided into “two cultures” – facing one another almost speechless: the humanities and the (natural) sciences. What is not commonly reflected upon, however, is the fact that this division has arisen rather recently – it dates back only to the nineteenth century. Moreover, it is arguably much less self-evident in the scientific practice itself than otherwise suggested by outward appearances.


The research group (RG) Two Cultures concerns itself with the history and presence of the “two cultures”. It investigates how the distinction is affecting the self-image of the actors involved, which social and field-strategic functions it fulfills and in what relationship it stands to the scientific practice. In this way, the RG also contributes to a more thorough understanding of the interdisciplinary endeavor. In the face of the ubiquitous call for interdisciplinary research, a discussion of its foundations seems highly desirable. What kind of challenges do different disciplinary constellations imply? Is it more difficult to find a common language for collaboration when scientists from both the humanities and natural sciences are involved? Such questions are critically reflected here and discussed in various forms of dialogue.

04.-05. Juli 2019: Workshop „Spaces of (Inter-)Disciplinarity in the Humanities and Sciences“

Photo: UNStudio/ DPA | Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Singapore, 2010 – 2015
Architect: Ben van Berkel / UNStudio

The currently ubiquitous call for interdisciplinary research challenges us to rethink how a research institute must look like with regard to architecture, space and infrastructure, to enable and facilitate this type of research. This workshop approached this question from both a historical and analytical angle. In the first session, the participants inquired into the history of academic architecture: since when do we expect universities to be clearly defined architectural spaces? What efforts to enable collaboration across disciplines in the humanities and sciences can we discern in the history of science? In the second session, they analyzed the requirements for interdisciplinary research, and how contemporary architects have tried to facilitate it. Finally, in the third session, they turned to the epitome of a research institute intended specifically for interdisciplinary research: the Institute for Advanced Study. The participants seeked to bring the findings of the first two sections to bear on the question of how an ideal Institute for Advanced Study would look like.

The results of the workshop will serve as the starting point for an intervention by members of Die Junge Akademie into the current discussion about Institutes for Advanced Study in Germany within the German Council of Sciences and the Humanities ('Wissenschaftsrat').

Date: 4th - 5th July 2019
Ort: NIAS Amsterdam

2018: Lecture and discussion with Peter Burke

The research group "Two Cultures of Sciences" welcomed cultural historian Peter Burke to a lecture followed by a discussion on October 12, 2018 in the ICI Berlin.

In a cultural history of the polymaths from the Renaissance to the present (from Leonardo da Vinci to Umberto Eco), Peter Burke examined the figure of polymath and its survival in an age of specialization. At first glance, it may seem counterintuitive to assume that polymath has managed to overcome the disciplinary borders which have been drawn since the mid-nineteenth century and which structurally manifest themselves in the division of universities into faculties, departments and institutes. Yet, as Peter Burke showed, the species of polymath has continued to exist; and it still does today – despite an undeniable decline.

Peter Burke is Professor Emeritus for Cultural History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Emmanuel College. He is considered one of the most renowned cultural historians worldwide. He has published extensively, most notably on the Italian and European Renaissance as well as on The Fabrication of Louis XIV. More recently, he has focused his research interests on media history and the sociology of knowledge.

Final report


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