Michel Janssen

Michel in Einstein's bath tub

I am a historian of modern physics in the Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine and the School of Physics and Astronomy (see my faculty profile) at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. My intellectual home, however, is Jürgen Renn's Abteilung at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte (MPIWG) in Berlin, where I am a regular visitor.

My dissertation (HPS, Pittsburgh, 1995) focused on the transition from classical to special relativistic mechanics. I worked for several years for the Einstein Papers Project (then at Boston University, now at Caltech) annotating papers, letters, and manuscripts documenting Einstein's path to general relativity. I was part of a research group of the MPIWG working on the history of general relativity. Our findings were published in: Jürgen Renn (ed.), The Genesis of General Relativity (4 Vols., Springer, 2007). I wrote the chapter on general relativity for The Cambridge Companion to Einstein (Cambridge University Press, 2014), which I co-edited with Christoph Lehner, a research scholar at the MPIWG. Since about 2006, my interest has shifted to the transition from the old quantum theory to the new quantum mechanics of the 1920s. In the context of another project of the MPIWG, I have been collaborating with Tony Duncan, a theoretical physicist at the University of Pittsburgh, on a series of papers analyzing various stages in this transition. We are currently working on a two-volume book on this topic under contract with Oxford University Press: Constructing Quantum Mechanics. Vol. 1. The Scaffold, 1900–1923 (expected 2019). Vol. 2. The Arch, 1923–1927 (expected 2022). Guiding my research in general are broader philosophical questions about scientific methodology and theory change (see the slides for a talk on “Common Origin Inferences” and the preprint of an article on “Arches and Scaffolds”).


Michel Janssen's CV

Michel in the bathtub in the Einstein Haus in Caputh (2009)