History of Physics

The main focus of the History of Physics group, led by Prof. Jeroen van Dongen, lies on the history of modern physics. Van Dongen researches the Science and Life of Albert Einstein and his contemporaries, and science during the Cold War. He is further interested in the history and philosophy of research on space, time and gravitation, and the relation between the history of science, the philosophy of science and scientific practice. Van Dongen serves as editor of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein (California Institute of Technology; Princeton University Press) and authored Einstein’s Unification (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Two projects are currently conducted at the History of Physics group at the University of Amsterdam. In collaboration with the astronomers of the Anton Pannekoek Institute (API) of the UvA, we are researching the Milky Way studies of Anton Pannekoek. These may be able to illustrate the history of objectivity as epistemic norm, a subject which has attracted great attention in current historiography of science, and at the same time inform us about Pannekoek’s scientific ideals and epistemic virtues. Pannekoek was a prominent socialist theorist and activist, and always maintained a strict separation between his socialist theorizing and his astronomical work. However, we hope to find a unified understanding of Pannekoek’s intellectual engagement through our focus on his epistemological ideals.

Secondly, we study the history of Dutch science institutions in the Cold War context. Following the end of World War II, the Netherlands boosted its funding for basic and applied science. Our research has shown that funds were allocated foremost with an eye to attract exchanges of knowledge with partners abroad, in cases of both basic and defense related science. Particular focus was on nuclear physics, leading to the creation of FOM and the ‘IKO’, Amsterdam’s accelerator facility. In the 1960s, the Dutch redirected their efforts to particle physics; Why? Research on Dutch physics during the early Cold War is supported by NWO Physics.

Finally, the History of Physics group is very much part of the effort to create a space for the History of the Humanities and Sciences (HHS) at the UvA. Together with our colleagues at the Humanities Department  and other UvA departments, we aim to found a Amsterdam wide structure that enables the post-disciplinary historical study of human knowledge.         

The History of Physics group offers teaching in the UvA’s Physics degree programs and through the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies (IIS) of the UvA. Jeroen van Dongen currently also teaches at Utrecht University and is a member of its Descartes Centre.



  • prof. dr. J.A.E.F. (Jeroen) van Dongen

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Published by  IOP

15 October 2015