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Janina Wellmann is a cultural historian of science.

Her work spans the history of knowledge about the living world from the early modern period to contemporary science. It encompasses epistemology, media and material practices and uses tools from anthropology, literary and technology studies.

2022–2023 she is a Visiting Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

Wellmann was a Harris Distinguished Visiting Professor at Dartmouth in May 2022. Previously, she held the Maury Green Fellowship at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute in 2017–2018 and was a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin in 2013–2014. She also worked as a Researcher at the Institute for Media Cultures of Computer Simulation at Leuphana Universität.

Wellmann wrote her doctoral thesis at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and holds a joint degree (cotutelle de thèse) from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales Paris and the Technical University Berlin where she also obtained her Habilitation.


Ecologies of Skins

The project initiates a novel interdisciplinary understanding of one of nature’s most perplexing organs. It builds on recent scientific insights into the skin microbiome as well as historical, anthropological, and art historical investigations. Studying a plurality of skins in their common ecological nature, the project interrogates skins as simultaneously natural and cultural ecosystems and thereby seeks to renegotiate our understanding of human life in an anthropo-centric world.

The project was awarded a Harvard Radcliffe Exploratory Seminar scheduled for June 2023. More

Biological Motion

In her new book, Biological Motion (Zone Books, forthcoming 2023), Janina Wellmann studies the foundational relationship between motion and life. One of the most mundane ways to assure humans that they and the other members of their world are alive, studying motion has recently become key in guiding life science research into the organism’s basic functions. However, as surely as we know that the living ceases to move in death, as little do we know about that motion animating the organic in life.

Biological motion is the first book to study animate motion and unearth the long history of investigations into the movements within and of the living world, from Aristotle’s animal soul to contemporary molecular motors.

Computer Simulation and Imaging Technologies

Computation, engineering and data acquisition have been key to advances in 21st century (life) sciences.  Along with this change in perspective comes a revolution in the visual imagery. Wellmann has studied computer simulation as a new tool in assessing and animating life science research (NTM 2019; HPLS 2018) and edited an issue of Science in Context on science and cinematography.

The Form of Becoming

The Form of Becoming Embryology and the Epistemology of Rhythm, 1760-1830 (Zone Books 2017) is the first cultural history of embryology. In the book, Wellmann rethinks the meaning of development around 1800 in terms of rhythm as episteme in science and aesthetics and shows how the rhythmic episteme crystallized in various guises and fields of knowledge as diverse as music theory, poetry, embryology and pictorial series.


Janina Wellmann
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
Boltzmannstrasse 22
14195 Berlin, Germany