Hermann von Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik

Zentralinstitut der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Image Script Number

Founding project of the Hermann von Helmholtz Centre for Cultural Techniques (HZK)

Theory and history of cultural techniques
The Helmholtz Centre focuses on the establishment of the concept of the cultural technique in history and theory. This concept draws on the interrelationship of image, script and number, a relationship investigated in an exemplary project by the »Image–Script–Number« research group (BSZ).
The BSZ research group was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) from 2001 to 2007. The individual subprojects in the »Image–Script–Number« research group were led by university lecturers at the Humboldt-Universität, the Technische Universität Berlin and the Freie Universität Berlin.  It studied the theme of techné and culture in the shadow of the digital revolution – a revolution characterised by the extensive use of computers and open computer networks far beyond the domain of science.
The spectrum of research conducted by BSZ covers image, script and number as the essential media of modern communication – from their historical genesis to their current potency in digital coding, storage and processing. The individual topics examined range from counting and calendar techniques in Mesopotamian cultures, the origins of Greek geometry and the Greek alphabet, medieval forms of writing, symbols and counting, and early letterpress printing all the way through to hypertexts, the technical image, visual forms of argumentation and programmed modelling.
Inevitably, the field of image, script and number could not be covered in its entirety. Indeed the field per se is, in some respects, a definition of all cultural techniques. The group therefore drew on the extensive detailed accounts in various individual disciplines and concentrated on fractures and differences that lead – or led – to media transformations and transfers. Its work centred on a media-historical analysis on the one hand and the current process of digitalisation on the other. Put in general terms, it dealt with mathematically oriented symbol techniques and the turning points in their developments.
The term »cultural technique«, which describes the focus of work for the Helmholtz Centre, could therefore be defined more precisely – and its scope narrowed. It is not a question of producing an organically evolved picture of »culture«, let alone a comprehensive one, but rather of defining the essential elements at the points where they emerged and transformed. The objective is not to achieve a complete synopsis, but rather to precisely determine transfers of ideas, culture and technique – which includes intervening in current discussions within the sciences and humanities.