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.

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.

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