Rise of Scientific Societies Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The earliest scientific societies appeared in Italy but diminished there after the condemnation of Galileo in 1633. Informal scientific societies in England came under a single charter in 1662, when Charles II of England authorized the Royal Society of London to advance the cause of science. Louis XIV of France followed with the formation of the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1666 and the Royal Observatory in 1667.

Summary of Event

Increasing scientific activity in the seventeenth century led to the formation of scientific societies, first in Italy and Germany, and later in England and France. These often began as informal groups of scientists meeting privately, but some later developed into more formal societies when they came under the patronage of royalty. The most important of these were the Royal Society Royal Society of London for the Promotion of Natural Knowledge (commonly known as the Royal Society) and the Royal Academy of Sciences Royal Academy of Sciences (Académie Royale des Sciences) in Paris. [kw]Rise of Scientific Societies (1601-1672) [kw]Societies, Rise of Scientific (1601-1672) [kw]Scientific Societies, Rise of (1601-1672) Science and technology;1601-1672: Rise of Scientific Societies[0200] Organizations and institutions;1601-1672: Rise of Scientific Societies[0200] Cultural and intellectual history;1601-1672: Rise of Scientific Societies[0200] Europe;1601-1672: Rise of Scientific Societies[0200] Italy;1601-1672: Rise of Scientific Societies[0200] Germany;1601-1672: Rise of Scientific Societies[0200] England;1601-1672: Rise of Scientific Societies[0200] France;1601-1672: Rise of Scientific Societies[0200] Scientific societies

The earliest scientific societies began in Italy. In 1601, the Academy of the Lynxes Academy of the Lynxes (Accademia dei Lincei), named after the lynx because of its reputed keen eyesight, began meeting in Rome under the patronage of Duke Federigo Cesi Cesi, Federigo . In 1609, it published the proceedings of its meetings, the earliest such publication by any scientific society. It had thirty-two members, including Galileo Galileo;Academy of the Lynxes , who published two of his books under its sponsorship. However, the condemnation of the Copernican system by the Inquisition in 1615 began its demise, which was hastened by the death of its patron in 1630. The last of the seventeenth century Italian scientific societies was the Academy of Experiments Academy of Experiments (Accademia del Cimento), meeting in Florence from 1657 to 1667 under the patronage of the Medici brothers, Grand Duke Ferdinand II Medici, Ferdinand II de’ and Leopold de’ Medici Medici, Leopold de’ . It had about ten members, including disciples of Galileo, such as Giovanni Alfonso Borelli Borelli, Giovanni Alfonso and Evangelista Torricelli Torricelli, Evangelista .

Due to the condemnation of Galileo in 1633, scientists in Italy became more cautious, and leadership in science began to shift to northern and western Europe. Even the Accademia del Cimento worked mainly on experimentation to avoid controversial ideas. When Leopold de’ Medici became a cardinal in 1667, the academy came to an end. German scientific societies carried on some activity at the time but did not match those in Italy. These included the Investigation Society Investigation Society (Societas Ereunetica), founded at the University of Rostock in 1622, and the College of Experimental Inquiry College of Experimental Inquiry (Collegium Curiosum sive Experimentale), established in 1672 at Altdorf with Leopold I as patron. Neither of these, however, outlived its founders, and the more stable Berlin Academy did not begin until 1700, under the influence of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm . However, the most important scientific societies emerged in England and France.

In the early seventeenth century, the English philosopher Francis Bacon Bacon, Francis championed the ideals of experimental and institutional science. His ideas began to bear fruit in the 1640’s in close conjunction with Puritanism and the English Revolution (1642-1660). The Irish scientist Robert Boyle Boyle, Robert was a leading figure in this movement, having close relations with Puritans, though he was himself a moderate Royalist. His group of associates in London became known as the Invisible College Invisible College , because they had no fixed meeting place. They were influenced by the Puritan ideal of edification through mutual cooperation in groups and believed that science could further the glory of God and the welfare of humans.

As scientific activity spread in England in the first half of the seventeenth century, the Puritan clergyman John Wilkins Wilkins, John began to popularize the Copernican system and harmonize it with Calvinist theology. He also promoted the application of science to crafts and industries along Baconian lines. Wilkins and Boyle were among the leaders in forming the Philosophical College Philosophical College in London and Oxford near the end of 1644, meeting weekly to discuss scientific theories and perform experiments. Of the ten known members of this group, six were Puritans siding with the Parliamentarians, and only one was definitely Anglican and Royalist.

With the Restoration of Charles II Charles II (king of England);Restoration of in 1660, many scientists appointed by the Commonwealth left Oxford and returned to London, which became the main center of science in England. A meeting at Gresham College in 1660 proposed the founding of a “College for the promoting of Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning” and elected John Wilkins as chairman. In 1662, Charles II granted a Royal Charter incorporating the group as “The Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge,” with Wilkins as first secretary and Henry Oldenburg Oldenburg, Henry as second secretary. Oldenburg was a German businessman with extensive European connections who handled the society’s correspondence and conceived the idea of publishing a scientific journal. In March of 1665, the first issue of The Philosophical Transactions appeared.

Membership in the Royal Society increased from about one hundred at its founding in 1660 to more than two hundred in the 1670’. The first Curator of Experiments was Robert Hooke, Hooke, Robert who proposed statutes in 1663 that were pervaded by Baconian influence and recommended against meddling in religion and politics. In the more open atmosphere of the Restoration, the Puritan affiliations of many of the members of the Royal Society became problematic. Out of the sixty-eight Fellows in 1663 for whom information is available, some forty-two (62 percent) had strong Puritan leanings, while twenty-six were Royalist.

In France in the 1640’, a Franciscan priest and disciple of Galileo, Marin Mersenne, Mersenne, Marin initiated informal meetings in Paris with scientific enthusiasts such as Blaise Pascal Pascal, Blaise and fellow priest Pierre Gassendi, Gassendi, Pierre and corresponded with Galileo and René Descartes. Descartes, René The wealthy Parisian Habert de Montmor Montmor, Habert de organized later meetings at his house in Paris and formalized the Montmor Academy Montmor Academy by a constitution in 1657 that declared its purpose to be the clearer knowledge of the works of God and the improvement of the conveniences of life. When the Montmor Academy requested aid from Louis XIV’s minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Colbert, Jean-Baptiste he decided to establish a new scientific society, complementing the Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Humanities Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Humanities (Académie Royale des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres), which he had established in 1663.





Colbert founded the Académie Royale des Sciences in Paris on December 22, 1666, under the patronage of the Crown, followed in 1672 by the associated Paris Observatory Paris Observatory (Observatoire de Paris). Like its English counterpart, the Académie Royale began publishing an important scientific journal, called Mémoires. The Académie began with twenty-one members, increasing to about fifty by the end of the century. In contrast with the self-supporting amateurs of the Royal Society, the academicians were professional scientists, several recruited from other countries, who were paid a salary by the king to work as a group on problems set by the royal ministers. The Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens Huygens, Christiaan was a member of the academy who provided an early Baconian empirical influence, but this eventually gave way to a more philosophical influence inspired by the writings of Descartes.


Much of modern scientific methodology began with the scientific societies of the seventeenth century. With increasing progress in science, these societies provided a rapid means of communicating ideas and discoveries between scientists through their meetings and scientific journals. The older universities, with their long traditions of formal learning, were often unable to adapt quickly to the new approaches of experimental science. The newer scientific societies were able to promote science effectively and bring scientists together from a variety of academic, commercial, and craft traditions. New scientific instruments began to be developed and tested, and new applications were commissioned.

Since the scientific societies were not restricted by hierarchical organizations or scholarly traditions, they were able to exchange ideas and test new discoveries more effectively. This activity was facilitated by their offering of awards and prizes for new discoveries and by the publication of new scientific journals. Discoveries that once were announced with anagrams to protect priority until they could be further tested could now be published openly. When scientific societies were recognized by government charters, they began to receive a degree of protection for the safe exchange of ideas, and some scientists in France even began to receive salaries for their work. Eventually, the scientific societies gave birth to new scientific specialties and new sources of funding.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dear, Peter. Revolutionizing the Sciences. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. This book on European science from 1500 to 1700 includes in chapter 6 a discussion of scientific institutions and patrons.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacob, James. The Scientific Revolution: Aspirations and Achievements. New York: Humanity Books, 1999. Chapters 4 and 5 discuss seventeenth century science in France and England, including scientific societies in these countries and Italy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ornstein, Martha. Role of Scientific Societies in the Seventeenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1928. Reprint. London: Archon Books, 1963. The most complete study of scientific societies in the seventeenth century, including a chapter on scientific journals.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rossi, Paoli. The Birth of Modern Science. Translated by Cynthia De Nardi Ipsen. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2001. This translation from Italian includes a good discussion of scientific societies in chapter 16 on “Academies.”
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Giovanni Alfonso Borelli; Robert Boyle; Charles II (of England); Jean-Baptiste Colbert; René Descartes; Ferdinand II; Galileo; Pierre Gassendi; Robert Hooke; Christiaan Huygens; Johannes Kepler; Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz; Leopold I; Louis XIV; Marin Mersenne; Sir Isaac Newton; Blaise Pascal; Evangelista Torricelli. Scientific societies

Categories: History