On the Evolution of an Interdisciplinary Paradigm of Thought in the German-speaking World (from 1200-16000)

This project deals with the development of mathematical understanding in Western Europe and its ramifications on literary vernacular texts. The main research question concentrates on the importance of the evolution and establishment of zero as a number, as an intellectual paradigm, and as a means of calculation in the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period. The zero as a means of broadening our mathematical horizon and therefore gaining a new approach to the empirical understanding of the world can be seen as the beginning of a paradigmatic shift towards scientific thinking. This is accompanied by the development of a specialised, scientific German language that slowly emerged as a result of the translation of Latin texts. Therefore I will focus on the connection between literature and the development of science by looking at the traceable development of the inclusion of i.e. the words ziffer and nulla figura (Null) in the German word pool.

A first goal of this research project is to create a database that includes a cross-referenced and annotated list of references relevant for German-language texts. Keywords- and phrases of different genres will also be included to prove the transmission and transformation of mathematical thinking via linguistic and hermeneutical means. In a second step the project will expand the collection of references and will concentrate on the contextualization within the texts itself and the literary genres they are attributed to. This will provide first findings within certain frames of references which will be connected to each other in a third step that concentrates on combining the findings and placing them within a larger context. Identifying fields of discourse within and beyond genres as well as their transformation over time will be part of this last step. An important result of this research project is to develop and provide a method to examine literary vernacular texts with regard to their relevance to the transmission, incorporation and processing of academic information. This will provide a tool to make the linguistic signs of an intellectual discourse evident and to help to better understand the complexity of literary texts.

Looking at the establishment of zero in Western Europe means to understand the underlying important change in mathematics and natural philosophy. The findings of this project as well as the developed method will contribute to a better perception of underlying processes of exchange and interdependencies of different disciplines. The importance of literature to mirror academic progress will be of particular interest to show that already at that time literature can be seen as a catalyst that jumpstarts, accompanies, and triggers scientific ideas.

Hertha Firnberg Programme (FWF)

Michaela Wiesinger