The Berlin Academy

Societas Regia Scientiarum, 1700-1744

Académie Royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Prusse, 1744-1810

Königlichen Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, 1810-1918

Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, 1918-1946

Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, 1946-1972

Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR, 1972-1992

Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1992-present

The Berlin Academy has its origins in the initiative of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, who, beginning in the 1690s, petitioned Elector Frederick III of Brandenburg (later King Frederick I of Prussia) to establish a German academy of sciences. After great efforts on the part of Leibniz, Frederick established the Academy in 1710, under the name of Societas Regia Scientiarum. Leibniz soon left Berlin, and the Societas declined under the rule of Frederick's successor, Frederick William I (who saw little value in such an institution), but the notion and tradition of state-supported science persisted nevertheless.

In spite of these difficulties, the Societas did manage to publish a semi-regular journal, though the publication dates were somewhat erratic. This journal, the Miscellanea Berolinensia, appeared in seven volumes between 1710 and 1744.

In 1740, after 30 years of neglect, institutional science entered a period of revival, due largely to the accession of Frederick II to the Prussian throne. Over the next four years, Frederick pursued a vigorous domestic policy, pushing for major reforms in Prussian science, the military, and administration.

While Frederick immediately proposed sweeping changes to Prussian science, the first few years of his reign had little impact on the Societas. From 1740 to 1744, Frederick was preoccupied with the Silesian Wars, was rarely in Berlin, and was noticeably absent from any movement for science reform. As a result, the Societas continued to suffer as it had under his predecessor, lacking funds and resources.

It was Frederick's professed commitment to reform, and an increasingly xenophobic atmosphere in Russia, persuaded Euler to acccept a position at the Societas in 1741. He and other scientists were displeased at the lack of substantive change, and they responded in 1743 by founding the Société Littéraire de Berlin. The purpose of the Société was to pursue scientific research in a completely private fashion, with no direct connection to the crown.

However, the Société was to be a short-lived venture. Its inauguration coincided with the end of the first Silesian war and the return of Frederick to Berlin. In 1744, Frederick delivered on his promise of reform, overseeing the reorganization and merger of the Societas with the Société under the new name of Académie Royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Prusse. (Additionally, the language of preference changed from Latin to French.)

With this, the establishment of the Academy was complete. Along with the new institution came new journals, the Histoire and Mémoires, which first appeared in 1745. These journals were published in tandem, in various forms, for about 60 years. Nearly all of Euler's works during the Berlin years were published in these journals.

The Academy continued in this fashion until 1809, when Wilhelm von Humboldt became president and initiated another major reorganization. This time, the language of preference shifted from French to German, and the Academy took on the new name of Königlichen Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin. The Histoire and Mémoires were also replaced, by the Abhandlungen.

Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, more changes, reorganizations, and renamings were to occur. These changes reflected the political situations of the times: Germany united in 1871 under the rule of the Kaiser, the end of World War I gave rise to the Weimar Republic and the Nazi period, and the Cold War division of Germany saw the Academy under the auspices of the East German government. The last major change came in the early 1990s, when Germany was reunited and the Academy was reformed as the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften.


Internet Resources: