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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.

At present, she is working at the research institute Media Cultures of Computer Simulation at Leuphana University Lüneburg. She came to Lüneburg after earning her M.A. at Humboldt-University zu Berlin and writing her doctoral thesis at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

She 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.

In May 2022, she will lecture at Dartmouth College, NH as Harris Distinguished Visiting Professor. Previously, she held the Maury Green Fellowship at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute 2017/18, was a guest professor at the Alexander von Humboldt Chair Naturbilder at Hamburg University in the summer of 2016, and spent the academic year 2013/14 at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. Her publications include a cultural history of embryology, The Form of Becoming. Embryology and the Epistemology of Rhythm, 1760-1830 (Zone Books 2017). In the book, she 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; two special issues dedicated to computer simulation as a new tool in assessing and animating life science research (NTM 2019; HPLS 2018); and an issue of Science in Context on science and cinematography.

Current Research

Biological Motion

In her new book, Biological Motion (forthcoming with Zone Books), 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.


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