Marianne Sommer Ehem. Senior Fellow

Marianne Sommer
September - Dezember 2016


Since 2011, Marianne Sommer is full Professor at the Department for Cultural and Science Studies at the University of Lucerne, where she directs the Integrated BA/MA-Program in Cultural Studies and presides the faculty-wide graduate school. She wrote her Ph.D. thesis in the field of history of science between 1997 and 2000 at the University of Zurich. In addition, Marianne Sommer was a fellow at the Collegium Helveticum of the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich). Subsequently, she spent two years as a Walther-Rathenau postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and another two years with a postdoctoral fellowship of the U.S. National Science Foundation at the Pennsylvania State University in the Science, Medicine and Technology in Culture program. From 2004 to 2010 she was Assistant at the Department of Science Studies at the ETH Zurich, where she received the Venia legendi for History of Science and Science Studies in 2007. In 2010, Marianne Sommer received a Swiss-National-Science-Foundation-Professorship for History of Science and Science Studies, with which she started at the Research Unit for Economic and Social History of the University of Zurich. In the same year, she was awarded the National Latsis Prize for her academic work.

Dated from 2016

Fields of research

History of the life, earth, and human sciences; human origins sciences; anthropology; biology; theory of science; history of knowledge; cultural sciences.

IKKM Research Project

The Diagrammatics of Human Evolution

In my project, I analyze aspects of the history of diagrammatic visualization in studies of human evolution, especially tree and map building. Since Ernst Haeckel’s phylogenetic tree that has become inscribed in our cultural memory despite the fact that it expresses an ‘outdated’ belief in evolutionary progress (Anthropogenie 1874), the icon of the tree that has roots in medieval genealogical representations of ‘noble descent’ and sacred genealogy, in the visualization of pedigrees in animal breeding, and in comparative historical philology, has come in many avatars from naked line diagrams to artistic abstractions. Phylogenetic diagrams have changed with the dominant view of human evolution in the course of history, and the message varies with the visual metaphor: a bush is less hierarchical than a tree, a chart less organic than a rhizome. Trees that represent human phylogeny, kinship, and/or migration are informed by a diverse set of data. They may be condensations of elaborate models as well as archeological scenarios, but despite the involvement of highly specialized knowledge, theoretical assumptions – and today information-technological and statistical methods –, tree diagrams seem readily understandable and lend themselves to the communication of knowledge. Along the lines of Michel Foucault’s concept of the diagram, I am thus interested in abstractions of specific types of implantation of bodies in space (and time), of the distribution of individuals in particular relations to each other, of a hierarchical organization. I look at anthropological and population-genetic technologies to analyze distributions, movements, series, and combinations, as well as the instruments to render visible, to register, to differentiate and to compare that order human diversity.

Selected Publications


History Within. The Science, Culture, and Politics of Bones, Organisms, and Molecules. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2016.
Evolutionäre Anthropologie zur Einführung. Hamburg: Junius 2015.
Bones and Ochre: The Curious Afterlife of the Red Lady of Paviland. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 2007.

Edited Books

with Monika Dommann und Boris Previsic: Accoustic Ephemerity (forthcoming 2016).
with Staffan Müller-Wille und Carsten Reinhardt: Wissenschaftsgeschichte: Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch. Stuttgart: Metzler (forthcoming 2015).
with Monika Lipphardt: Visibility Matters: Diagrammatic Renderings of Human Evolution and Diversity in Physical, Serological, and Molecular Anthropology (forthcoming 2015).
with Gesine Krüger: Biohistorische Anthropologie: Knochen, Körper und DNA in Erinnerungskulturen. Berlin: Kadmos 2011.
with Philip Sarasin: Evolution. Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch. Stuttgart: Metzler 2010.


“Population-genetic trees, maps and narratives of the great human Diasporas”. In: History of the Human Sciences, SAGE 2015, pp. 1-48.
“Biology as a Technology of Social Justice in Interwar Britain: Arguments from Evolutionary History, Heredity and Human Diversity”. In: Science, Technology and Human Values, SAGE 2014, pp. 1-26.
“Die Biologie der Demokratie im wissenschaftlichen Humanismus”. In: Michael Hagner (ed.): Wissenschaft und Demokratie. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp 2012, pp. 51-69.
“Serielle Inszenierung. Die Osborn-Knight Restaurationen der Evolutionsgeschichte“.In: Stefanie Samida (ed.): Inszenierte Wissenschaft. Zur Popularisierung von Wissen im 19. Jahrhundert. Bielefeld: Transcript 2011, pp. 129-156.
“Angewandte Geschichte auf genetischer Grundlage”. Nach Feierabend. Zürcher Jahrbuch für Wissenschaftsgeschichte 4/2008, pp. 129-148.