Fabian Kraemer

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2018/2019
discipline History of Science
Wissenschaftlicher Assistent, Akademischer Rat auf Zeit, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich

Research project

Before the Two Cultures: How the Sciences and the Humanities Grew Apart


Few beliefs about the nature of academic knowledge appear to be less problematic and are more deeply ingrained than the assumption that a wide gulf divides the natural sciences and the humanities. The happy phrase “two cultures”, invented and devised by the British physical chemist and novelist C.P. Snow against the backdrop of the Cold War, has over the past decades assumed an a-historical ring. But like many other dichotomies that characterize modernity, this binary opposition is younger than we tend to think. While some of its roots go back to the early modern period, it was largely in the nineteenth century that academics began to develop a sense of belonging to either the sciences or the humanities. The emergence of the “great divide” constituted one of the most fundamental transformations in the history of knowledge. Its history remains to be written.


Throughout most of the early modern period, philologists and naturalists were united by a common humanistic canon and common scholarly practices and inhabited one republic of letters. A Renaissance naturalist had acquired a solid humanist education at the Artistenfakultät (later called Philosophische Fakultät), one of the four traditional faculties of a European university. The arts course offered by the Artistenfakultät served as a propaedeutic. You had to pass through it before you could move on to one of the three higher faculties, of Theology, Jurisprudence, and Medicine. An empirical study of many of the objects that would, later on, pertain to the sciences, including animals, plants, and minerals, mostly took place in the faculty of medicine. But let us not be mistaken: Academic physicians had also passed the arts course. They took pride in their humanistic learning. Moreover, their contributions were by no means confined to the study of nature. For instance, many Renaissance physicians were much invested in the study not only of natural but also human history.


The demise of this unified world of learning at the turn of the early modern and modern periods and the emergence in its stead of separate spheres for humanistic study and the sciences, respectively, changed the very notion of what knowledge is and should be. It has since been expected to pertain either to the human or natural realms, which are governed by fundamentally different principles and, hence, have to be studied separately. By the end of the nineteenth century, most contemporaries agreed on this. One of the most famous expressions of this view is the notion of the German philosopher and theologian Wilhelm Dilthey that the Geisteswissenschaften are aimed at understanding (verstehen) and the sciences at explaining (erklären) their respective subject matter.

My second book, tentatively titled Before the Two Cultures: How the Sciences and the Humanities Grew Apart, will be the first book-length study of the history of this major transformation in the history of knowledge.




Fabian Kraemer is Wissenschaftlicher Assistent, Akademischer Rat auf Zeit for the History of Science in the History Department at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich (LMU Munich). He holds a PhD in Early Modern and Modern History and English Literary History from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. His main research interest are the (pre-)history of the "two cultures" (C.P. Snow), learned reading and writing practices and their relation to "scientific" observation in the Early Modern study of nature, and the history of the case history.


Selected publications


'Shifting Demarcations: An Introduction', History of Humanities, vol. 3, no. 1, 2018, pp. 5-14.


'Albrecht von Haller as an ‘Enlightened’ Reader-Observer', in A. Cevolini (ed.), Forgetting Machines: Knowledge Management Evolution in Early Modern Europe, Brill, Leiden/Boston, 2016, pp. 224-242.


'Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Pandechion Epistemonicon and the Use of Paper Technology in Renaissance Natural History', Early Science and Medicine, vol. 19, no. 5, 2014, pp. 398-423.


'Instruments of Invention in Renaissance Europe: The Cases of Conrad Gesner and Ulisse Aldrovandi', with H. Zedelmaier, Intellectual History Review, vol. 24, no. 3, 2014, pp. 321-341., 


Ein Zentaur in London: Lektüre und Beobachtung in der frühneuzeitlichen Naturforschung (= Kulturge-schichten: Studien zur Frühen Neuzeit; 1), Didymos, Affalterbach, 2014.



junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Social Anthropology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Sociology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Political Science
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Law