Circulations: a virtual laboratory and its elements

Henning Schmidgen, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger


This paper presents and discusses the website <>. Under the title “The Virtual Laboratory: Essays and Resources on the Experimentalization of Life” it gives access to a massive collection of texts and images concerning the experimental life sciences of the 19th and early 20th century. The main focus is on physiology and psychology. Plant breeding is an additional theme. As of now, the Virtual Laboratory gives access to some 12,000 digital items, i.e. historical text books, journal articles, manuscripts, trade catalogs, photos, films, audio files, etc. At the same time, the Virtual Laboratory is a platform for historians of science to publish and discuss their research on the experimentalization of life. Topics range from the history of precision time measurements in the physiological lab to the historical epistemology of hearing and the role of the Axolotl as an experimental animal in zoology. By way of a guided tour through the Virtual Laboratory, the paper describes the kind of epistemic space that was created. It argues that open access to historical sources as well as tight connections between historical research papers and their raw data, e.g. manuscript sources, profoundly change what used to be called the Archive. Today’s historians of science have started to work within a space that is widely distributed and extremely flexible with respect to its internal connections. It is a space that turns the Archive into an authentic laboratory for the science historian.

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