Science and the State. Governmental Research in War and Peace during the Twentieth Century

Science and the State. Governmental Research in War and Peace during the Twentieth Century

Simon Große-Wilde / Carsten Reinhardt, Universität Bielefeld; Helmut Maier, Bergische Universität Wuppertal
Vom - Bis
03.03.2022 - 04.03.2022
Simon Friedrich Groß, Geschichtswissenschaft, Universität Bielefeld; Ernst Homburg, History, Maastricht University

The international conference was part of the project on the History of the research institutes of the German Federal Ministry of Economics (Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, Physical-Technical Federal Institute) during the National Socialist era and the post-war period. Most papers were on German state-funded research institutes, yet some discussed similar institutes and developments in other countries. Building on previous research on the histories of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWS) and the Max Planck Society, the conference offered a new view by extending the field to research institutes of a more practical nature and by crossing the years of the Second World War.

After a brief introduction by Carsten Reinhardt (Bielefeld), Helmut Maier (Wuppertal) elaborated on the intentions and the foci of the project. Maier introduced six points around which the project circles: 1) research and scientific standards, 2) biographies and their respective political milieus, 3) war-relevant knowledge production, 4) the occupation regime as well as slave and forced labor, 5) dealing with incriminated, and 6) the culture of remembrance (e.g. “Erinnerungskultur”, “NS-Belastung” and “Aufarbeitung”’). He argued strongly for looking at the investigated institutions from the perspective of hybrid institutions and focusing especially on their characteristic twofold nature. The hybrid character leads to two fields of investigation – government research and techno-politics – whereby both the commitment of the institutions to the standards of the disciplines should be investigated, as well as the service function of knowledge acquisition for government, industry and public welfare. As institutions doing research on demand, instead of an idealistically assumed purposeless research, governmental research has so far only played a marginal role in the historiography of science and technology. Placing the agencies of the Federal Ministry of Economics and their predecessors in the focus, the project aims to highlight the impact and the role that those research facilities played in the history of the German science and innovation system during the 20th century.

JULIA MARIKO JACOBY (Essen) made clear that Japan is an especially interesting country to look at, when it comes to scientific development, as it was the first non-western country to compete with the west. During the Meiji-period (1868-1912), civil engineers were trained abroad and foreign experts (oyatoi) were hired, model factories were set up and schools of higher education in the field were established, leading to an entanglement of civil engineering and the state that remained throughout the 20th century. Testing sites for water flows, dam projects and hydraulics were inspired especially by the US and Germany. Especially the Tennessee Valley Authority was seen as an inspirational model for organizing and developing Japan’s dam infrastructure.

RÜDIGER HACHTMANN (Berlin) presented his views on the new statehood of National Socialism. He elaborated what “new statehood of National Socialism” means and why scientific institutions thrived (to varying degrees) under it. He focused on several factors that helped the Nazi regime to remain in power and expand. In his view, two factors were particularly important: 1) a combination of formal and informal power structures, especially within the new mass organizations, leading to a higher degree of flexibility and therefore efficiency than comparable state organizations, and 2) the introduction of so-called Sonderkommissare (Hermann Goering, Albert Speer, and Fritz Todt, among others) for various tasks, often without a clear formulation of what their supposed task actually was. A stronger personalization of power structures, Hachtmann made clear, led to more informal ways of conducting operations. This he saw as one of the main reasons for the stability of the Nazi regime.

The second session united three papers on topics ranging from hard-core materials testing to testing practices in acoustics and ballistics. MALTE STÖCKEN (Wuppertal) spoke about the State Materials Testing Office (Staatliches Materialprüfungsamt, MPA), which was founded in 1871. Already during the early days, testing steel for the army and the navy was an important task. During World War I, and again during the Nazi period, research for the military grew in importance. Under Erich Seidl (1935-1939) testing new alloys as substitutes for the army had to contribute to the “autarkization” of the German economy. Between 1932 and 1939, the staff doubled in size (from 200 to 400), and the budget tripled. The Office was funded by a whole array of ministries and military organizations, but also by private parties in the fields of engineering, steel construction and road building.

ANSBERT BAUMANN (Saarbrücken) sketched the history of the German research institute on ballistics, which was transferred to France after the Second World War and later continued as a joint French-German research center. The research institute on ballistics started in 1903 as part of the Military Technical Academy in Berlin and was integrated into the Technical University of Berlin in 1920. Under the physicist Carl Cranz (1858-1945), it developed into one of the world’s leading research institutes on ballistics. In 1935, the air force founded its own Luftwaffe Technical Academy (LTA) at Gatow near Berlin and appointed Hubert Schardin – Cranz’ closest collaborator – as head of the Institute for Technical Physics and Ballistics. As a result of increasing air raids, the institute was relocated to Biberach in south-west Germany, where it was occupied and confiscated by French troops in April 1945. In August 1945, it was relocated – together with part of the German staff – to Saint-Louis in France. Schardin continued as technical director. After the formation of (again) an independent German army in 1955, Schardin managed to turn his research center into a binational military research institute in June 1959. During the entire lifespan of the institute, there was a striking continuity as regards research, from the German Empire via the Weimar Republic and the Nazi state to the French-German research efforts.

The collaborative arrangement between state research institutes and technical universities also mattered in the talk by ROLAND WITTJE (Chenai) on acoustics, testing materials and state research in Norway between the Wars. In the Norwegian case, it was the Technical University at Trondheim (NTNU) that hosted a Materials Testing Laboratory. This laboratory did much externally-funded research an acoustics, testing of materials, and the development of special testing instruments for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) and the Norwegian state. Before the war, there was a close collaboration with the MPA and other German research institutes. After the war, advisors from the US and the UK tried to convince the Norwegian government that it would be better to create separate state research institutes, independent from the NTNU. This intervention failed, and the NTNU succeeded in continuing the situation in which externally-funded applied research for the state was combined with the training of scientific manpower.

In the third session on geological sciences, MARTINA KÖLBL-EBERT (Munich) focused on German petroleum geology in the 20th century. Stretching from figures such as Alfred Bentz (1897-1964) to August Moos (1893-1945), a geologist of Jewish descent who worked for the Preussag in the 1930s and was murdered in the KZ Bergen-Belsen, to Karl Krejci-Graf (1898-1986), who, in the 1950s, held the chair of geology and paleontology at the University of Frankfurt-on-the-Main, one was able to follow the different stages of development of the field in relation to the political circumstances that impacted it and, according to the political goals of the respective powers in charge, shaped the ways in which research was conducted.

STANISLAW WOŁKOWICZ, co-authored by KRYSTYNA WOŁKOWICZ (Warsaw) talked about the Polish episode in the life of Roland Brinkmann. Based on the trial files on Brinkmann from the year 1949, they elaborated on the ways he was acting in Poland during his time as Commissioner Director of the Polish Geological Institute (PGI) from 1940 to 1944. He was accused of acting to the detriment of the Polish State while being head of the institute. Based on a grotesque accusation of sending property of the institute to the Reich, he was imprisoned for two years. During his time in prison, Brinkmann received strong support from various well-known geologists and was eventually released, after the court concluded that he had not been a supporter of Nazi ideology and that he had tried to help arrested employees of the institute as far as he could.

BJÖRN HOFMEISTER and SÖREN FLACHOWSKY (Wuppertal) presented the history of the German Geology Offices, thereby covering a timespan from 1914/18 to 1955/60. Starting out in the 19th century when state and industry became increasingly aware of the importance and economic relevance of geological surveys and research for the exploration and extraction of minerals, the Prussian Geological Survey (PGLA) slowly grew into the role of provider of reliable information on the subject. A utilitarian path was followed as the PGLA was seen as relevant for a variety of topics ranging from the exploitation of the colonies to research on trench drainage during World War I. Military usage was a key part of the research conducted. After World War II, the office was split up. Self-sufficiency (autarky) ambitions remained in the GDR, where the office was renamed State Geological Survey. In the western part of Germany, a federal structure established itself for the then to be Geological Federal Office, as the Länder didn’t want to lose any of their newly acquired administrative powers.

The fourth session was opened by JEFFREY A. JOHNSON (Villanova, PA), who spoke about technology transfer from Germany and US chemical and psychochemical warfare research from 1945 to 1971. In 1945, the allied scientific and technical intelligence discovered that German scientists had worked on nerve gases during the war. During the next two years, German scientists who had experimented with nerve gases at Dachau worked for the US Army Air Force in Heidelberg. When the Cold War began, these research projects and several German scientists were transferred to the US Army Chemical Center in Edgewood, Maryland. Between 1955 and 1971, nerve gas research intensified, and tests were done on growing numbers of volunteers. Public criticism put an end to this research in 1975. Although further investigations still have to be done, it seems that this case demonstrated an important German contribution to US warfare research.

HELMUT MAIER (Wuppertal) presented a conceptual framework for the analysis of national innovation systems, ranging from (technical) universities, via non-university research institutes (KWI and MPI in Germany), and industrial research, to government research institutes. In Maier’s view, usually two types of techno-scientific association play key-roles in establishing relationships between those institutes: (a) disciplinary committees (inter-institutional), and (b) problem-centered committees (inter-disciplinary). In times of war, more coordination was needed, and a war organization for armament research was set up by adding (c) a system of problem-centered government ad hoc committees. To illustrate this conceptual framework, Maier discussed the example of research done by the Imperial Institute of Physics & Technology (PTR) for the Army in the field of wireless communication during World War I; and the enormous expansion of government research during the years 1933-1945. As a result, the staff of several institutes grew enormously. Between the military, these institutes, and other partners, there was a complex set of relationships to coordinate armament research.

YVONNE SCHELLHORN (Bielefeld) addressed the history of the State Commodity Inspection Office Thuringia (Staatliches Warenprüfungsamt Thüringen) in the Soviet Zone. The Commodity Inspection Office emerged from a private testing institute in the town of Gera in 1917. Since 1938 it was directed by Friedrich Thielemann. In June 1946, the Soviet Military Administration decided to turn the existing Gera Commodity Inspection Office into a State Commodity Inspection Office for the textile industry. Parallel to that, the relocated branches of the Imperial Institute of Physics and Technology in Thuringia became the starting point of other specific testing stations. They are witnesses of the symbiosis between earlier institutes and the new ones. Parallel to these institutional developments, the history of the institutes in the Soviet Zone was strongly colored by political trials against both Thielemann (1947) and his successor and later boss Max Rüffle (1950).

Session five dealt with physics, and VIVIAN YURDAKUL and JENS THIEL (Wuppertal) presented on the Imperial Institute of Physics & Technology (PTR) and its successor institutions after 1945 in East- and West-Germany. Firstly focusing on what goes on inside an institution, Yurdakul told the story of two very different characters, namely Erich Moelle and Johannes Stark, and their discussions within the PTR during the 1930s and 40s. As both came from different disciplinary backgrounds, Moelle as trained jurist and Stark as physicist, they had very different views on what their task within the PTR was. Their discussions reinstated the aforementioned hybrid character of the institution between science and, in this case, law making. Thiel’s part focused on the development of the PTR and its successor institutions within the two newly formed German states after 1945 and their different paths of restructuring.

SHAUL KATZIR (Tel Aviv) had a look at the development of frequency and time standards in the interwar period, putting physical national laboratories in the center of his attention. What again came into focus was the hybrid character of the laboratories, as they aimed for practical results while at the same time being interested in the extension of “pure” knowledge. Starting out after World War I, radio waves and the control of their frequencies were of commercial but also of military interest. Here, standardization, the development of more accurate clocks and research on the rotation of the earth were touched, eventually leading to the development of the first atomic clock by Louis Essen in the UK.

DIETER HOFFMANN (Berlin) put his focus on the development of the PTR during Nazi times, as he elaborated on the plans of the Nazis to reshape the Meter Convention. Starting out as a European convention gathering in Paris, the head of the PTR, Johannes Stark (1874-1957), tried to establish Berlin as the European center of the meter standard. This revanchist aim was supported by Wilhelm Kösters (1876-1950), who was a member of the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) since 1921 and gained the post of President of the National Metrology Institute, the successor institution of the PTR, after World War II, which led to some doubts concerning his suitability for the then held office.

The final session on theory and methodology differed in several ways from the others, as it foregrounded conceptual and empirical tools of research. AXEL PHILIPPS (Hannover) talked about scientists’ frames of orientation at governmental research agencies. He focused on the organizational self-concept of governmental research agencies and discussed how scientists at these institutions relate their own work to the agencies’ missions. By interviewing scientists working at different German governmental research agencies, Philipps found that they employed divergent and persistent scientific “frames of orientations”, a concept based on sociological theories by Karl Mannheim and Pierre Bourdieu.

RICHARD HEIDLER and JÜRGEN GUEDLER (Bonn) presented GEPRIS Historisch, a tool based on records on about 50,000 approved and rejected proposals submitted to the Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft and its successor-organization Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), between 1920 and 1945. That information has been linked to Wikidata and several other information portals. In 1937, the Notgemeinschaft/DFG was supplemented by the Reichsforschungsrat (RFR), who took over much responsibility in the natural sciences and engineering, mainly for armament research. The DFG remained in charge of humanities. Among others, an analysis was made for the years 1943-1945 when the criterion of urgency (Dringlichkeitsstufen) was applied by the RFR. This instrument, developed for steering the war economy, was now used for steering research. Almost 6,700 proposals were analyzed in this way, which corresponded significantly to armament and autarky relevance. Proposals from industry and the KWIs obtained a higher mark of urgency than research at universities.

Conference overview:

Welcome and Introduction: Carsten Reinhardt (Bielefeld) and Helmut Maier (Wuppertal)

Session I: Science and the State

Julia Mariko Jacoby (Essen): Continuities and changes between prewar and postwar Japanese research on water governance

Rüdiger Hachtmann (Berlin): Profiteers or victims? Scientific institutions in the “New Statehood” of National Socialism 1933 to 1945

Session II: Materials

Malte Stöcken (Wuppertal): Testing and researching materials for the war economy: The State Materials Testing Office (Staatliches Materialprüfungsamt) Berlin-Dahlem in the Third Reich

Ansbert Baumann (Saarbrücken): Armament research in the field of tension between scientific and state interests: From the Air Force Technical Academy to the Saint-Louis Institute

Roland Wittje (Chennai): Acoustics, testing materials and state research in Norway between the Wars

Session III: Geological Sciences

Martina Kölbl-Ebert (Munich): German petroleum geology from the Third Reich to the Iron Curtain

Stanislaw Wołkowicz and Krystyna Wołkowicz (Warsaw): Polish episode in the life of Roland Brinkmann: from the director of Amt für Bodenforschung to the prisoner – the story at a distance of 400 meters

Björn Hofmeister and Sören Flachowsky (Wuppertal): Geology and the state in war, peace, and Cold War. The German Geology Offices 1914/18-1955/60

Session IV: Chemical Sciences and Engineering Entangled with the State

Jeffrey Johnson (Villanova): From Heidelberg to Edgewood: Technology transfer from Germany and American chemical and psychochemical warfare research, 1945-1971

Helmut Maier (Wuppertal): Armament research on demand. Governmental research institutions and the German innovation system (1933-1945)

Yvonne Schellhorn (Bielefeld): Structure, responsibilities and personnel organization of the State Commodity Inspection Office Thuringia (Staatliches Warenprüfungsamt Thüringen) in the Soviet Zone

Session V: Physics

Jens Thiel and Vivian Yurdakul (Wuppertal): Metrology between science and state. The Imperial Institute of Physics and Technology (Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt) and its successor institutions after 1945 in East- and West-Germany

Shaul Katzir (Tel Aviv): National laboratories research and development of frequency and time standards in the interwar period

Dieter Hoffmann (Berlin): The Imperial Institute of Physics and Technology (Physikalisch- Technische Reichsanstalt) and the Nazi plans to reshape the Meter Convention in the spirit of "Greater Germany”

Session VI: Theory & Methodology

Axel Philipps (Hannover): Scientists’ frames of orientation at governmental research agencies. Some sociological insights

Richard Heidler and Jürgen Guedler (Bonn): GEPRIS Historisch – A new source for research and empirical analysis of governmentally funded science from the Weimar Republic to the Second World War

Discussion: Helmut Maier (Wuppertal) and Carsten Reinhardt (Bielefeld)