Science is not just a matter of theories – it is also an historical phenomenon. Without knowledge of its history, it is impossible to understand why science is conducted the way it is and how it has come to play such an important part in our lives. Exploring scientific history is therefore an essential part of the work done by the Leopoldina – an institution that can itself look back on a history of 360 years.
Through its long years of research into the history of science, the Leopoldina has shown that even in the days when it was a small society of scholars (Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher), it regarded the study of the history of science and medicine as an indispensable part of its remit. Historical research often leads to a more critical take on popular yet misleading ideas about how scientific discoveries are made and the role of scientific institutions in their respective social context.
The Leopoldina has counted scientific historians among its members for over 80 years. This tradition ensures that research into the history of science, carried out in collaboration with the archive, the library and representatives of the relevant subject areas, remains an important part of life at the Academy. A well-known case in point was the recent publication of an historical criticism and annotated edition of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s writings on natural science. It provides a highly reliable philological resource for international researchers investigating the scientific work carried out by Goethe, one of the Leopoldina’s most illustrious members.
An historical understanding of the sciences adds depth to the debate on the form both current and future research and teaching should take. The Leopoldina therefore regularly hosts public seminars on themes relating to the history of science, and publishes its own series, Acta Historica Leopoldina, which is addressed to both specialists and the general public. The Leopoldina’s archive and library is committed to making its historical treasures accessible to research and to preparing exhibitions aimed at a wide audience.