Neuroscience research in the Max Planck Society and a broken relationship to the past: Some legacies of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society after 1948

A new piece in the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences may interest AHP readers: “Neuroscience research in the Max Planck Society and a broken relationship to the past: Some legacies of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society after 1948,” Frank W. Stahnisch. Abstract:

The development of the brain sciences (Hirnforschung) in the Max Planck Society (MPG) during the early decades of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was influenced by the legacy of its precursor institution, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of Science (KWG). The KWG’s brain science institutes, along with their intramural psychiatry and neurology research programs, were of considerable interest to the Western Allies and former administrators of the German science and education systems in their plans to rebuild the extra-university research society—first in the British Occupation Zone and later in the American and French Occupation Zones. This formation process occurred under the physicist Max Planck (1858–1947) as acting president, and the MPG was named in his honor when it was formally established in 1948. In comparison to other international developments in the brain sciences, it was neuropathology as well as neurohistology that initially dominated postwar brain research activities in West Germany. In regard to its KWG past, at least four historical factors can be identified that explain the dislocated structural and social features of the MPG during the postwar period: first, the disruption of previously existing interactions between German brain scientists and international colleagues; second, the German educational structures that countered interdisciplinary developments through their structural focus on medical research disciplines during the postwar period; third, the moral misconduct of earlier KWG scientists and scholars during the National Socialism period; and, fourth, the deep rupture that appeared through the forced migration of many Jewish and oppositional neuroscientists who sought to find exile after 1933 in countries where they had already held active collaborations since the 1910s and 1920s. This article examines several trends in the MPG’s disrupted relational processes as it sought to grapple with its broken past, beginning with the period of reinauguration of relevant Max Planck Institutes in brain science and culminating with the establishment of the Presidential Research Program on the History of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in National Socialism in 1997.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.