Dr. R.B. (Robert-Jan) Wille

Dr. R.B. (Robert-Jan) Wille

History and Philosophy of Science
+31 30 253 5648

Robert-Jan Wille is a VENI-postdoc at the Freudenthal Institute. Since December 2019 he has been working on the history of German atmospheric physics. Before, he worked at the section of Political History at the Department of History and Art History. He taught at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and the Radboud University Nijmegen. He was a scholar-in-residence at the Deutsches Museum in Munich and Herzog-Ernst-Stipendiat at the Research Library Gotha of Erfurt University.

In 2015 he defended his Radboud University doctoral dissertation on the relationship between Dutch biologists and the state between 1870 and 1914, in which he analyzed both the Netherlands and the Dutch Indies. A key role was played by evolutionary developmental biologists and their national and colonial lobby campaigns for state laboratories, for which Germany was an important source of inspiration. In turn, by building large coastal and colonial laboratories, Dutch biologists created blueprints for national science policy, for biologists in other regions and for scientists from other disciplines. In 2019, a Dutch edition was published with Vantilt, Mannen van de Microscoop. De laboratoriumbiologie op veldtocht in Nederland en Indië, 1840-1910.  

Since 2015 Wille has worked on the history of climate science, and especially the history of meteorology between 1880 and 1970. He has studied the different ways that scientists have involved their governments in building a global infrastructure of weather stations and balloons in the decades before the first weather satellites. For his VENI-project, he researches how Germany became a leading European power in the science of meteorology and upper atmosphere physics, dealing with the political regimes of Wilhelmine, Weimar and Nazi Germany. This project is part of a larger mission to bring more (open) air into the history of science and at the same time bring more history of science into the cultural study of air.

What connects both the laboratory biology and atmospheric physics projects is that Wille has always analyzed the role of field work in the construction of alliances between new scientific disciplines and government departments. He moves between the two poles of local field work on the microlevel and the production of the modern technocratic state at the macrolevel.

Alfred Wegener launching weather balloon on Greenland

Commercial edition of dissertation