Chair of Economic and Social History and History of Technology (WST)


Formerly known as the Chair of Economic and Social History, the Chair has been an active player in the teaching and research activities at RWTH Aachen’s School of Business and Economics since 1969. In 2012, when the University widened the scope of the Chair to additionally encompass the history of technology, the name of the Chair was amended to reflect its new role. The key focal areas of the Chair include financial and credit services, mobility and infrastructures, resources and energy as well as the history of innovation and business history. In order to create a systematic foundation of knowledge that enables its students to recognize current contexts, to question and evaluate them, the Chair’s concept is to foster critical analysis and an understanding of the relationships between past, present, and future. The Chair is supported in its endeavors by a team of 17 academic staff members and student assistants.

Teaching Activities

The Chair’s teaching activities center primarily around the 19th and the 20th century, but not to the exclusion of earlier epochs of history. Although teaching activities mainly address the Bachelor and Master students who are studying with the School of Business and Economics, the Chair also caters for students from other faculties of RWTH Aachen University as well as for students from the University’s interdisciplinary “Leonardo” project. Prof. Paul Thomes also proposes thesis topics and supervises students throughout the process of completing the thesis. The Chair’s lectures, seminars, and tutorials do not only confer students with specialized knowledge, orientational knowledge, and methodological skills; students are encouraged to analyze processes of change in context as well as critically reflect on such processes. Through teamwork and interactivity, students develop their social skills and the ability to demonstrate their knowledge in spoken and in written form. As sustainable management is not possible without a long-term perspective and systematic knowledge of economic contextual factors, a main focus of teaching activities is the specialization “Sustainability and Corporations”. The blended learning approach is also an integral part of the Chair’s teaching and learning concept. In 2011, the Chair developed an online platform: at, students and other interested parties can discuss aspects of mobility down the ages.


With its interdisciplinary approach towards teaching and research, the Chair of Economic and Social History and History of Technology avails itself in equal parts of the disciplines of history and economics and their neighboring disciplines (the “mixed method” approach). A combination of institutional and behavioral theory approaches, supported by empirical social and economic research (“History Lab”), enables researchers to identify and explain path dependencies and (dis)continuities. Of central interest to their research is the concept of economic, social, and cultural embeddedness, which entails the contextualization of historical phenomena in their regional and transnational environments.

The Chair’s key focal areas are particularly well suited to showing the potential of historical dynamic analysis with regard to both current and future events. They find application in the provision of services for firms and institutions and in the historically based, critical reflection of contemporary and future-oriented economic and technological research. In the field of business, the Chair’s research is directly reflected in the change and innovation management of firms, in the development of business models for the credit services sector and in investment planning.

Sponsored by the School’s IMF Project House, and as part of the School’s Research Area “Energy, Mobility, Environment” in 2013 the Chair started a project addressing energy transitions in firms, which analyzes in particular the energy supply systems of the local energy provider “STAWAG” between 1838 and 2013, and the impact changing energy options had on its long-term investment decisions. Beyond, the Chair is systematically analyzing the way in which institutional and technological path dependencies are handled. Research goals are the analysis of ultra-long-lived capital goods and the historically based evaluation of decision processes. Other projects of the Chair address the conditions for innovation in local public transport and long-term expectation formation in the energy sector. The Chair is also involved in the JARA-Energy Seed Fund Project “Technology-Based Energy Systems Analysis”.