Prof. Dr. Marianne Sommer

Professor for Cultural Studies

T +41 41 229 56 15

Frohburgstrasse 3, Room 3.A32

Leader of the Swiss National Science Foundation Project 'In the Shadow of the Tree: The Diagrammatics of Relatedness as Scientific, Scholarly, and Popular Practice (Sinergia Project)'


The meaning of absence: the primate tree that did not make it into Darwin's The Descent of Man
Marianne Sommer
Published online by Cambridge University Press

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's Descent of Man (1871), Marianne Sommer published an article open access in a special edition of the British Journal for the History of Science Themes.


Scientific Humanisms and the Anthropocene, Or the Dream of Steering the Evolution of the Human and Natural World
Marianne Sommer
Práticas da História, n.º 11 (2020): 199-223 (PDF)
Journal on Theory, Historiography and Uses of the Past

Special Issue: Provincializing Europe – 20th anniversarytakes the 20th birthday of Dipesh Chakrabartys 'provincializing Europe' as an opportunity to discuss its impact and relevance.


History Within
Marianne Sommer

Personal genomics services such as 23andMe and now offer what once was science fiction: the ability to sequence and analyze an individual’s entire genetic code—promising, in some cases, facts about that individual’s ancestry that may have remained otherwise lost. Such services draw on and contribute to the science of human population genetics that attempts to reconstruct the history of humankind, including the origin and movement of specific populations. Is it true, though, that who we are and where we come from is written into the sequence of our genomes? Are genes better documents for determining our histories and identities than fossils or other historical sources?

Our interpretation of gene sequences, like our interpretation of other historical evidence, inevitably tells a story laden with political and moral values. Focusing on the work of Henry Fairfield Osborn, Julian Sorell Huxley, and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza in paleoanthropology, evolutionary biology, and human population genetics, History Within asks how the sciences of human origins, whether through the museum, the zoo, or the genetics lab, have shaped our idea of what it means to be human. How have these biologically based histories influenced our ideas about nature, society, and culture? As Marianne Sommer shows, the stories we tell about bones, organisms, and molecules often change the world.

For review quotes see NTM Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin, Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, British Journal for the History of ScienceJournal of the History of Biology,History of the Human Sciences, The British Journal of Sociology, Science.

Bones and Ochre - The Curious Afterlife of the Red Lady of Paviland
Marianne Sommer

Marianne Sommer unravels a riveting tale about a set of ancient human bones and their curious afterlife as a scientific object.

When the ochre-stained bones were unearthed in a Welsh cave in 1823, they inspired unsettling questions regarding their origin. Their discoverer, William Buckland, declared the remains to be Post-Diluvian, possibly those of a taxman murdered by smugglers. Shortly thereafter he reinterpreted the bones as those of a female fortune-teller in Roman Britain—and so began the casting and recasting of the “Red Lady.” Anthropologist William Sollas re-excavated Paviland Cave, applying methods and theories not available to Buckland some ninety years earlier, and concluded that the skeleton was male and Cro-Magnon. Recently, an interdisciplinary team excavated the cave and reinterpreted its contents. Despite their “definitive report” in 2000, Sommer suggests this latest project still hasn’t solved the mystery of the Red Lady. Rather, the Red Lady, now a shaman and icon of Welsh ancient history, continues to be implicated in questions of scientific and political authority.

The biography of the Red Lady reflects the personal, professional, and national ambitions of those who studied her and echoes the era in which the research was conducted. In Bones and Ochre, Sommer reveals how paleoanthropology has emerged as an international, interdisciplinary, modern science.

Further information here.


Zwitschern, Bellen, Röhren. Tierlaute in der Wissens-, Medientechnik- und Musikgeschichte
Marianne Sommer, Denise Reimann

Further information here (German only).


Handbuch Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Marianne Sommer, Staffan Müller-Wille und Carsten Reinhard (eds.)

Further information here (German only)