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Project B2

Heroes of Natural Philosophy: The Scholar as Hero in the New Sciences During the Long 17th Century

Prof. Dr. Ronald G. Asch
Dr. Monika Mommertz

Department of History

Although scientific personalities continue to be heroized  even until today (for example, ‘Einstein Year’ as part of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s ‘Year of Science’ Program and the Humboldt Renaissance), the tradition of the connection between (natural) science and the heroic has not yet been systematically and comprehensively researched. This project studies the role of heroizations and de-heroizations of academics, scientists and researchers in the long 17th century. In doing so, it focuses on a time period in which the sciences were just as much afflicted by crisis and conflict as they were bringing about numerous innovations, namely the first phase in the consolidation of the so-called ‘new sciences of nature.’ This project also examines how the figuration of the ‘new’ scientist, which emerged during this time period, was heroically modeled. The question is whether and by which means a set of performatively and orally constructed elements of the heroic were developed and established in this situation which formed into an enduring, useful model of the scientist as hero. Under what circumstances and for what reasons were certain classical, medieval and contemporary models of the heroic adapted and reformulated in this period by scholars, but also in other social figurations in all of Europe? How, under what circumstances and with what means, implications and consequences were elements in the heroization of science and scholars assimilated, received but also questioned? How did these heroizations contribute to the dissolution of older forms of mainly Aristotelian sciences and to the legitimation and acceptance of the ‘new sciences’ which were often provocative for contemporaries? It will also be investigated whether type-related heroisms contributed to the development of networks among scholars and whether new relational standards were thereby legitimated, for instance, between scientists and society; between scholars, the educated and the uneducated; and in distinguishing between learned women and men; and between Europeans and non-Europeans. Furthermore, another assumption suggests that the ideals, methods and practices of the ‘new sciences’ established themselves in Europe in very much the same way heroisms and forms of heroization were habitually acculturated, especially in courtly settings. The project will center on four scientists, namely Brahe, Kepler, Bacon and Galileo, who were already in their own time well-known as proponents of new scientific research and also very much integrated into the courtly-noble culture. In examining these personalities, the forms of self-heroization but primarily the contemporary and posthumous heroization of others in the res public litteraria among other publications will be investigated. A spectrum of heroisms concerning the sciences, which until now has never been systematically and transnationally studied, will be analyzed in its multimediality: These include the design and architecture of such scientific places as observatories, academies and libraries to the production and circulation of texts (for example, poetry, utopia and treatise) and visual depictions to performances in ceremonial acts or publicly staged experiments.