Philip Beeley

A World Apart: On the Scientific Correspondence between the Academia naturae curiosorum and the Royal Society

Intellectual Geography / Wednesday 7 September, 2011

When Leibniz wrote his introductory letter to the secretary of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg, in July 1670, he contrasted the position of experimental philosophy in England and Germany. ‘Remarkable experiments are not wanting among us,’ he writes, but such is the state of politics in Germany now [ . . . ] that there can be no uniting into societies’. He was at the time possibly unaware of the existence of the Academia naturae curiosorum, which had been founded in Schweinfurt in 1652 by a group of medical physicians but which lacked many of the advantages of the Royal Society. There was little or no central organization, no meeting place where members could gather and watch experiments, and therefore no forum where new discoveries could be discussed on a regular basis. Communication among members was exclusively by letter and depended upon unreliable postal routes across territorial boundaries and over difficult terrain. Despite such difficulties members of the Academia naturae curiosorum, located in different parts of the Empire, maintained a remarkable correspondence amongst themselves and with other scientific institutions elsewhere in Europe. Letters exchanged with the Royal Society touched on a variety of topics ranging from natural curiosities to (real and false) phosphor. The paper will consider these exchanges as a means to throwing light on a scientific institution whose very existence in early years exemplifies vital aspects of scientific communication and intellectual geography in the early modern period.