Virtual Laboratory

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The online project Virtual Laboratory. Essays and Resources on the Experimentalization of Life, 1830–1930 of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science deals with the history of the experimentalization of life. Experimentalization is understood here as the interaction between the life sciences , the arts , architecture , mass media and technology under the dispositive of the experimental from around 1830 to 1930. The Virtual Laboratory is a platform that presents historical work on this topic, but also functions as a working environment for conducting new studies.


In 1997 the first version of the Virtual Laboratory was presented under the name Virtual Laboratory of Physiology . At that time, the main idea was to present the development of the technical conditions of physiological research in the 19th century. For this purpose, a database with texts and images on the topic has already been created. After several renovations, the basic concept of the Virtual Laboratory, which is used today, was created in 1998, which was no longer focused solely on physiology, but on the life sciences, art and literature. A year later, in 1999, the Virtual Laboratory was published on CD-ROM. In addition to the source material, an electronic platform for historiographical work was also found here for the first time. The project was at the conference Using the World Wide Web for Historical Research in Science and Technology of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at Stanford University presented. In 2000, the Virtual Laboratory became part of the research project The Experimentalization of Life, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation . There was also another presentation at the Virtual Research? The Impact of New Technologies on Scientific Practices takes place at ETH Zurich . After the Virtual Laboratory in 2001 with Virtual Laboratory. Essays and Resources on the Experimentalization of Life, 1830–1930 received its final title, the first version went online in 2002. Since 2008 the Virtual Laboratory has had the status of a journal with the ISSN 1866-4784 .  


The Virtual Laboratory is divided into two parts. The archive includes a large number of digitized texts and images on the topic and data sheets that were created from this inventory. The laboratory consists of historiographical texts for the experimentalization of life and of a work environment that is intended to open up new possibilities for writing history. The website of the Virtual Laboratory is divided into 8 sections:

  • Essays : here you will find the historiographical essays, which in turn are linked to the archive's sources.
  • Experiments : this section contains data sheets on classical experiments from the life sciences of the 19th century. B. blood circulation, muscle contraction, nerve conduction and reaction time were examined.
  • Technology : this is where the technical part of the experimentalization, i.e. the instruments, can be found
  • Objects : this area is dedicated to the objects of experiments, i.e. living beings, v. a. Animals.
  • Sites : this section deals with the places of experimentalization, i.e. institutions where experimental work has been carried out.
  • People : here you can find short biographies of the protagonists of the experimentalization
  • Concepts : this section is dedicated to concepts such as reflex, function and consciousness and their history.
  • Library : the library section is the heart of the Virtual Laboratories. In addition to digitized books, magazines and instrument catalogs, manuscripts, audio files and excerpts from films can also be found here. The texts in the library's holdings are currently being processed with OCR software and some of them can already be searched using a full-text search.

All materials can be downloaded as PDF files.

In addition to these thematic categories, tools and myLab offer the opportunity to use the Virtual Laboratory as a work platform. Own collections from the holdings of the Virtual Laboratory can be created, edited and shared with other users.


  • Henning Schmidgen , Rand B. Evans: The Virtual Laboratory: A New On-Line Resource for the History of Psychology. In: History of Psychology. 6 (2), 2003, pp. 208-213. (English)
  • Sven Dierig, Jörg Kantel, Henning Schmidgen: The Virtual Laboratory for Physiology. Max Planck Institute for the History of Science Preprint 140, 2000. (PDF, English; 6.0 MB)

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