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Introducing: Alexander Stoeger

Alexander Stoeger recently joined the Institute for History as a postdoc. He introduces himself.

My name is Alexander Stoeger, and I am a History of Science Post-Doc in Herman Pauls project Scholarly vices: A Longue Durée History, which investigates into the function and use of epistemic vices in the 19th and 20th centuries. We want to understand why some epistemic vices dating back to the early modern period or even further, such as the image of the ‘Dark Middle Ages’ or Bacon’s idols, can be found in scholarly arguments in the modern period and until today.

In my project, I focus on the accusation of ‘dogmatism’ in scientific arguments in the 19th and 20th centuries. I am interested in why dogmatism was and still is such a serious reproach, how it is integrated into scholarly rhetoric, and how scholars and scientists reacted to it. In the following three years, I will examine several case studies of different disciplines and periods to see how the use of this epistemic vice has changed, and in what way it remained the same. My first case study is based on the theory of evolution and Charles Darwin’s discussion with his critics, as well as the arguments of his supporters.

In September 2019, I not only began my new post at Leiden University but also moved to the Netherlands. Born in the southwest of Germany, I did my studies and PhD at Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany, with research stays in London, Edinburgh and St. Andrews. My master programme, Deutsche Klassik im europäischen Kontext, approached German and European culture and history about 1800 from several disciplines such as literature, philosophy and history but also art history, history of science and music studies, which met my interests in interdisciplinary research. I did my PhD within the newly launched DFG Research Training Group Modell Romantik. Variation – Reichweite – Aktualität between 2015 and 2018.

In my PhD project, I already investigated in the use of epistemic virtues and vices to construct the ideal persona in German and British discourses about galvanism between 1790 and 1810. I focussed on the early works of the young scholars Alexander von Humboldt, Johann Wilhelm Ritter, Christian Heinrich Pfaff and Humphry Davy who were eager to proof their epistemic virtues to their scientific communities. I could show how members of those communities, especially in the German lands, used the young scholars’ self-presentation to construct the ideal scientific persona of the modern experimenting researcher. Both scientific cultures depended on epistemic values as a foundation for their concept of natural philosophy/Naturwissenschaften, which also shaped their methods and research topics.

For the coming three years, I will be following the use of epistemic values into the 19th and 20th century, changing the perspective from a very special micro-discourse to a longue durée history point of view. I am looking forward to settling into the Netherlands in general and Leiden University in particular and to working in a team on this exciting topic.  

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