Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Chair for the History of Science

Austen Van Burns, M.A.

Austen Van Burns M.A.
Visiting Scholar
austenvb (at)


→ Vita

→ Research interests

→ Research project

→ Selection of workshops, conferences and presentations

→ Teaching



Austen Van Burns is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of History at Princeton University, where she is advised by Professor Michael D. Gordin. She specializes in modern European history and the history of science. Her research explores how intersubjective models of knowledge developed in tandem with theorists’ personal and political lives. She maintains a particular interest in how physics and philosophy came to be demarcated into their current disciplinary forms.

She holds a B.A. with Honors in Classical Studies from Swarthmore College, and she earned her M.A. with Distinction from Princeton in 2022. She is a visiting scholar at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin for the academic year 2023-2024.


Research interests

  • Historical approaches to the philosophy and sociology of science
  • Scientific communication and representation
  • Intellectual production under extreme circumstances
  • Internationalism and constructed languages


Research project

Unifying science during the rise of fascism

The dissertation shows how members of the Unity of Science movement conveyed knowledge across political and professional borders during the rise of fascism. The movement was one of several pan-European projects created by Otto Neurath, an economist and social philosopher who co-founded the Vienna Circle. When Neurath fled Vienna in 1934, he was forced to leave behind the already-fracturing Circle, but he soon committed himself to unifying science with equal, if not greater, enthusiasm than he showed for his previous philosophical work. The movement was intended to help “orchestrate” the natural and human sciences, thus stabilizing the foundations of knowledge. Many of the physicists, mathematicians, logicians, and linguistic philosophers who joined the movement had Jewish ancestry, including Neurath; displacement and violence took the jobs of some and the lives of others. Yet despite their deteriorating material circumstances, the Unifiers stayed as unified as they could. They held annual conferences, visited each other across battle lines, mailed each other manuscripts, and wrote hundreds of letters. Their connections sustained networks of emotional and material support, which in turn shaped their academic pursuits. Against a world of senselessness, they advocated a science of clear thinking which they believed could help defeat fascism and return Europe to political equilibrium. What they could not have known is that by the end of 1945, few of them would remain to evaluate if they had succeeded. 


Selection of workshops, conferences and presentations

  • Co-organizer, Committee for the Study of Books and Media (lecture series). Faculty Chairs: Anthony Grafton and Nigel Smith. Princeton, New Jersey. Spring 2021 – Spring 2023.
  • Pre-circulated paper, “Of Graphs and Biographs: Interpreting Texts, Images, and Lives.” Harvard-Princeton-MIT History of the Physical Sciences Graduate Student Workshop. Princeton, New Jersey. 29 April 2023.
  • Commentor, “How Ideas, Individuals, Science, and Society Interact: Insights from the Story of Hermann Weyl,” by Kati Kish Bar-On. Harvard-Princeton-MIT History of the Physical Sciences Graduate Student Workshop. Princeton, New Jersey. 29 April 2023.
  • Commentor, “Can a Simple Test in Bacteria Identify Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Humans?,” by Angela N. H. Creager. History of Science program seminar. Princeton, New Jersey. 24 April 2023.
  • Panel chair, “Things.” Text and Image in the Early Modern World: An Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Workshop. Organized by Pamela O. Long, Anna Speyart, and John White. Princeton, New Jersey. 24 February 2023.
  • Presenter, “The State of Nature and Nurture: Wild Children from Natural Philosophy to the Human Sciences.” A Frost Fair for Early Modernists: The Sixteenth Annual Harvard- Princeton Graduate Conference in Early Modern History. Organized by Anthony Grafton and Ann Blair. Princeton, New Jersey. 11 February 2023.
  • Panelist, “Renewal.” Abundance and Loss: Narratives of Diversity across the Natural and Human Sciences. Organized by Erika Lorraine Milam and Banu Subramaniam. Princeton, New Jersey. 04 February 2023.
  • Commentor, “Beasts in the Grid: German Archaeology and the Architectural Reconstruction of Ancient Life in the Early Twentieth Century,” by Iason Stathatos. History of Science program seminar. Princeton, New Jersey. 14 November 2022.
  • Panel organizer and chair, “What is the History of Science?”. Hosted at New College West for undergraduate students. Princeton, New Jersey. 02 November 2022



  • Graduate student tutor: writing and English as an additional language, Princeton Department of History. Spring 2022-present
  • Preceptor, HIS 379: American Legal History (Laura F. Edwards), Princeton Department of History. Fall 2022.


→ back to top