Science not only consists of theories, but is also a historical phenomenon: Without knowledge of its own history, it remains incomprehensible why science works the way it does today and why it has gained such great importance in our lives. Exploring the history of science is therefore an indispensable part of the activities of the Leopoldina – an institution that can look back on a 360-year old history itself.
Through its long years of research into the history of science, the Leopoldina has shown that even in the days when it was only 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 the emergence of scientific knowledge and the role of scientific institutions in their respective social context.
The Leopoldina has had science historians in its ranks for more than 80 years. This tradition ensures that research into the history of science in cooperation with the archive, the library and representatives of the respective subject areas still constitute an important part of Academy life. The recently completed historical-critical Leopoldina Edition “Goethe, Writings on Natural Science” by one of the most famous members of the Leopoldina, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, impressively documents this. It places the worldwide debate on Goethe's natural thinking on a new, highly reliable philological basis.
Historical knowledge of the sciences deepens the discussion on the present and future of research and teaching. The Leopoldina therefore regularly organizes public seminars on questions of scientific history and publishes its own series of publications, the “Acta Historica Leopoldina”, which is aimed at both the expert and the interested layman. The Leopoldina’s archive and library are committed to making its historical treasures accessible for research and to host exhibitions aimed towards a broader audience.
Treasure for public benefit – A glimpse into the collections of the Leopoldina Permanent exhibition on the history of the Leopoldina