Berlin-based historian of science Dr. Elisabeth Rinner has been chosen by the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina to receive the coveted Georg Uschmann Award for the History of Science. She is to be honored for her outstanding dissertation “On the Origins of the Geographic Coordinates in the Geography of Claudius Ptolemy”. The award will be presented on September 20, 2013 during the ceremonial opening of Leopoldina’s annual meeting.

Dr. Rinner’s work focuses on the methods and initial data employed in Ptolemaic geography. In the Geography (Geographike Hyphegesis), a work dating to the 2nd c. AD, Ptolemy provides the first systematic presentation of the coordinates of more than 6000 locations in the ancient world. Questions have long remained unanswered concerning what sources he based his coordinates on, how he evaluated those sources, and what methods he used to calculate the geographical coordinates. Dr. Rinner was able to show that Ptolemy first determined the locations of central places on a world map using a pair of compasses and ruler, and then used this data to determine the locations of other places on maps. Ptolemy’s sources included information on geographical latitude, reports of distances between locations and descriptions of coastlines that survive to this day in ancient geographical texts. Dr. Rinner chose to publish her work in an innovative form: in addition to publishing her results as a book, she also created interactive applets that are available online as digital resources.

Dr. Rinner was born in 1981 and studied mathematics and the History of Science in Regensburg. She researched and wrote her dissertation as part of an interdisciplinary project on ancient cartography at the Universität Bern’s Karman Center for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, a project which involved publication of a new edition of the Geography. After successfully defending her dissertation in Bern she transferred with the project leader, Prof. Dr. Gerd Graßhoff, to the Chair Chair in History of Ancient Science at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. At the Excellence Cluster Topoi she continues to conduct research into ancient geography as part of the “Mathematical Geography” project and several other projects.

The Excellence Cluster Topoi is a research institute of the Freie Universität Berlin and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin which cooperates with the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the German Archaeological Institute, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. Academics from over 30 disciplines conduct inter-institutional research within the Cluster.

The Georg Uschmann Award, which is endowed with 2000 euros, is awarded by the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina to students who have written outstanding doctoral theses on themes related to the history of science or medicine. It was founded by Ilse and Eugen Seibold, a married couple from Freiburg im Breisgau, and named after historian of science and longtime Jena resident Georg Uschmann (1913-1986).


–> more about Elisabeth Rinner’s research at Topoi