Prof. Dr. Christian Kassung

Christian Kassung has been Professor of Cultural Techniques and History of Knowledge at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin since 2006. He studied German Studies and Physics in Aachen and Cologne. In 1999 he finished his PhD in German Literature at the Universität zu Köln with a dissertation on Robert Musil's “’Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften’ in the discourse of modern physics”. Dissertation in 2007 on the pendulum and its meaning for the history of knowledge. He is also Vice Director of the “Hermann von Helmholtz Center for Cultural Techniques” and Board of Directors member as well as Principal Investigator of the Cluster of Excellence “Image Knowledge Gestaltung. An Interdisciplinary Laboratory”. Research fields: History of knowledge and cultural history of the natural sciences, mainly physics; history and epistemology of accidents; cultural techniques of synchronization; Recent Publications: “Self-Writing Machines: Technology and the Question of the Self”, in: communication +1, vol. 4, article 5, 2015 (online). With Marcelo Caruso (Eds.): “Maschinen”, in: Jahrbuch für Historische Bildungsforschung, Bd. 20, 2015 (Verlag J. Klinkhardt). With Thomas Macho (Eds.): Kulturtechniken der Synchronisation. München/Paderborn, 2013 (Wilhelm Fink).



Cultural Techniques of Analogue Simulation

My research project aims to transfer the question of computer simulation as a specific, digital-born form of knowledge production to experimental systems which already before the advent of the computer as »universal medium« enabled to process massive amounts of data in parallel. The key example is the wind tunnel in which very different physical modellings are simulated. Its history and epistemology are to be studied with a strong focus on the facilities of the »Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt« at Berlin/Adlershof as an analogue computing system in which the contemporary hydrodynamical knowledge emerged as fine streaks, swirling mist, or waving wind vanes.

The historical precursors of these analogue simulation systems in terms of an empirical and formal enrichment of the existing technological knowledge can be traced back to the 17th century. Initial experiments to measure and optimize the design of water wheels had been performed by Christopher Polem around 1700 and by John Smeaton around 1760. In 1697, Christopher Polhem (Polhammar) founded the first school of engineering in Sweden, the »Laborium mechanicum« at Stockholm, and conducted elaborate test series to improve the efficiency of water wheels with models. John Smeaton received in 1759 the Copley Medal for his hydrodynamical tests of water and wind wheels. Over a period of nearly seven years, Smeaton simulated the physics of different types of water wheels with a scaled-down model that allowed him to measure 13 different parameters. Well known further historical stations were Gustave Eiffel's 1905/06 experiments at Paris or the Wright brothers' wind tunnel trials some years before. On September 20th, 1940, Vannevar Bush suggested none other than Norbert Wiener to use his »differential analyzer« for the design of aircraft wings and cartridge cases.

Calculating and imaging, thus the project's fundamental claim, are deeply interwoven in this simulation practice. They take place as coherent forms of action in the experimental space of the wind tunnel. This leads to the further reaching question whether and to what degree these cultural techniques of analogue simulation constitute a dispositive that successively develops into the digital simulation i.e. of high-energy physics. Thus, what kind of images are formed by the empirical evidence that is produced in the wind tunnel by self-recording?