Since the Middle Ages, universities have been centers of education for important scientists and intellectuals. But scientific research required the organization of work on a broader territorial basis, space for interdisciplinary discussion and publishing. The manifestation of the integrative orientation was from the 17th century formation of scientific associations – learned societies or academies. In Hungary, and in Slovakia, the first proposals for the organization of research appear from the first half of the 18th century. They had an imperial (Habsburg), Hungarian, regional dimensions and since the 19th century also national awakening.
In 1732, Daniel Fischer published a paper with the aim of associating Hungarian scientists (especially naturalists and doctors) in a scientific society around the journal Acta eruditorum Pannoniae … (discussions on natural phenomena and the causes of diseases).
In 1735, Matej Bel submitted to the Austrian imperial administration a proposal to establish an pan-Hungarian scholarly society called Societas litteraria based in Bratislava. It was to gradually unite all the scholars in Hungary who would also be united by patriotism. The statute emphasized the need to of expert meetings and symposia organisations in three groups of science – literature, law and science, associating disciplines according to the then nomenclature. The society was to publish the scientific journal Observationes posonienses (Bratislava Observations) on a monthly basis. The proposal fell into oblivion and was “discovered”, or published only in 1965.
K. F. Loew in 1739 in Sopron processed a call for botanists of various countries in connection with the preparation of a work on the Pannonian flora. In 1761, Teofil Windisch founded a learned society in Bratislava with an emphasis on literary issues. During its twelve-year existence, it has published several volumens of professional journals in German.
The founding of the learned society was initiated in 1763 by František Adam Kollár, a native of Terchová. As a successful doctor at the imperial court in Vienna, he issued a call for Hungarian scholars to establish a “societas litteraria”. In particular, it was to be an association of correspondents focused on the study of Hungarian history and law, economic conditions and natural resources. Despite the failure of this proposal, Kollár did not give up his plan. In 1771, he initiated the establishment of a “literary society”, which until 1776, under the editorship of Daniel Trstianski, published a scientific journal devoted to panhungarian issues.
F. A. Kollár and D. Trstiansky, or Count J. Teleki are associated with an “anonymous” proposal to establish a learned society in Bratislava called Academia Augusta with a statute based on the existing academies of sciences in Paris, London, Berlin and St. Petersburg. There were four sections in the structure of the academic academy – philosophical (including natural and technical disciplines), historical (including law), economic (including agricultural issues) and cultural policy (here also education, culture, translations of foreign language publications). Academia Augusta was to bring together four categories of members: honorary, regular, correspondent and candidate. Financial subsidies were to come from the income of the abbey in Széplak and Szekszárda. The construction of the Academy’s central building in Bratislava, the construction of a scientific library, the remuneration of full members and extraordinary members were to be financed from these sources. Following the example of the French Academy of Sciences, an influential figure was supposed to be the protector here as well.
The members of the Imperial Council took a negative view of the project. The political aspect was also at the forefront – the Hungarian Academy should not be established until the Reich Academy of Sciences was established in Vienna. Such a criterion was already met by the project submitted in 1774 to Maximilian Hell, a native of Banská Štiavnica, director of the Imperial Astronomical Observatory, to the Imperial Court Study Commission. He proposed the establishment of an Imperial-Royal Scholarly Society or Academy of Sciences in Vienna. It was to have seven sections exclusively focused on the natural and exact sciences – for astronomy, geometry, mechanics, physics, botany, anatomy and chemistry. During the approval process, the economic policy background decided again. Expenditures were to be covered by revenues from the publication of calendars throughout the monarchy, which was not agreed with the Hungarian Royal Chancellery and the Governing Council. According to them, these revenues in Hungary were to be used to build the Hungarian Academy in Trnava. Finally, both variants were withdrawn.
In the second half of the 18th century the conditions for purposeful national arousal activities have matured in the Slovak environment. The activities of Anton Bernolák resulted in 1792 in the establishment of the Slovak Learned Society, which was mainly a more widely branched publishing association based in Trnava. In 1793, Juraj Ribay also drafted a real scientific society called the Institute, or a Czech-Slavic society among Slovaks in Hungary. The research focused on the territory inhabited by Slovaks. The proposal contains the seeds of ideas about patriotic research, national science, enlightenment, mother tongue cultivation (it was Czech – biblical at that time) and culture. The company was to have three membership groups: candidates, full and honorary members. Society of a learned fellowship of the mining area, corresponds in part to J. Ribay’s ideas, otherwise Societas Slavica, founded in 1810 on the initiative of Bohuslav Tablic. He had ambitious goals in comprehensive patriotic research and enlightenment, in the cultural and economic upliftment of the Slovak popular strata. However, in its twenty-two years of existence, collecting, documenting and educational activities have only been reflected in sporadic publishing activities. The company ceased to exist in 1832 after the death of B. Tablica.
Stronger traces were left in the field of editing by another regional institution – the Lesser Malohont Learned Society founded in 1808 in Nižno Skálnik on the initiative of Ján Feješ. It published the yearbook Solennie. The social vision of the authors was dominated by official Hungarian state political views. However, a number of valuable contributions from the social sciences were also published, among others from the fields of history and geography with a bearing on Slovakia.
The development of the patriotic research orientation in the first half of the 19th century was stimulated by J. Kollár and P. J. Šafárik, who already in 1827 expressed the need to establish the Matica slovenská. However, cultural and scientific associations based on the national-educational principle (Slavic Society and Slavonic Readers’ Association, founded in Pest and Buda associated with the name of Martin Hamuljak) failed. Similarly, before 1840, the unique ideas initiated by P. Šafárik – members of the Štúrovo generation about the founding of the Matica Slovenská, or the National Scholarly Society – remained at the level of plans.
In the Štúr’s time, science did not have an organizational base in Slovakia. In addition to political developments with increasing national pressure, the reason was also the ambivalent relationship of some Štúrs to the role of science in society. However, at the time when the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (continuously today’s Hungarian Academy of Sciences) was established in Pest mainly on the initiative of I. Szécsényi, they were also built in the Slovak environment in several humanities – in history, literary science, folklore and linguistics mostly individually (e.g. ethnographic work of Ján Čaplovič) concept of the future process. After 1863, they were also the basis for the activities of the six departments of the Matica slovenská (MS) – linguistic, fiction, historical, legal-philosophical, mathematical-natural sciences and musicology. The scientific unions gave the MS the character of a learned society that had honorary, correspondent, and full members and elected officials. Real national needs also set other tasks for the MS – to be a national museum, library, archive, major publishing house and educational institution. The annals of Matica Slovenská published inspiring results of patriotic research and until the official abolition of Matica in 1875 they were also a forum for the presentation of national interests.
An important stage in the organization of science in Slovakia is connected especially with the name of Andrej Kmeť. After the opening of the National House in Martin in 1890, the establishment of a museum and a library, from 1892 he developed his efforts to establish the Slovak Learned Society with its headquarters in Martin and several branches. He also called the institution the Slovak Academy of Sciences. He saw it as an opportunity to activate and coordinate the best scholars. A. Kmeť’s initiative was supported by S. H. Vajanský, J. Francisci, J. Škultéty, J. Petrikovich, A Halaša and others. It was to have honorary, founding, full and corresponding members. Scientific lectures were to be given at the committee and general assemblies, reports on scientific results were to be given, and tasks for scientific treatment of topics were to be distributed. The statutes provide for the publication of a scientific journal.
The founding general meeting of the Society with 30 founding and 141 full members met on April 24, 1893 in the Library of the National House in Martin. However, the discussion and subsequent voting eventually resulted in a modification of the original intention – the Slovak Museum Society was established, the statutes of which were prepared by Pavol Križko. A. Kmeť was elected chairman of the committee. According to the basic point of the statutes, “the purpose of the Slovak Museum Society is to search for the various excellence of Upper-Hungary, and thus to collect everything that relates to the Slovak people, their mental and material life and the regions inhabited by these people”. In 1896, P. Socháň’s proposal for the establishment of four SMS departments was approved – for geography and natural history, for prehistory, antiques and anthropology, for ethnography with several subsections, and finally for crafts, industry, economy and trade. In 1896, the Proceedings of the Museum of the Slovak Society began to be published with more extensive scientific studies, and in two years also the bimonthly Journal of the Museum of the Slovak Society.
A. Kmeť also emphasized in the activities of the MSS the popularization of scientific results, the importance of educating young adults, emphasized the need to save national monuments, and was well aware of the need for collective forms of work in science and their specialization. Thanks to these real ideas about science and its mission, Kmeť managed to gradually transform MSS into a learned society. In 1906, the foundation stone of the MSS building was laid, which, however, was completely completed in 1908, only after the death of A. Kmeť.
The importance of the MSS in the development of Slovak science lies mainly in the organisation of scientific research. The results are reflected in publications in the Proceedings and the Journal of the MSS (both ceased publication in 1914). The social sciences were at the forefront of interest, but a number of studies were also published in the natural sciences, fine arts and national economy. Many of the works cannot be denied a high professional standard and lasting scientific merit. Although the MSS was restored after 1918, its activities gradually merged more and more with the Slovak National Museum in Martin until its official dissolution in 1960.
For the professionalisation of Slovak science after the establishment of Czechoslovakia, a new main link was created – the Slovak University in Bratislava. The integration specifics in the organisation of research in Slovakia and Subcarpathian Russia corresponded to the Scientific Society of Šafárik founded in 1926 on the initiative of the academic senate of the university. It had ordinary and extraordinary members, mostly from among professors and associate professors of the University, and from 1933 also honorary and foreign members. It ceased to exist in 1939, its successor until 1949 was the Slovak Learned Society, which is associated with the beginnings of the publication of the Slovak Patrimony and several scientific periodicals. In particular, the Slovak Academy of Sciences and Arts, the direct predecessor of today’s Slovak Academy of Sciences, was founded on its initiative in 1942, thus rooted in deep domestic traditions, organically following the complex history of science and research in Slovakia and the work of many previous historians, scientific and cultural associations and institutions.
In the history of science in Slovakia, a significant place belongs to various types of learned societies. Their legacy is also reflected – appropriately to the needs of modern society – in the mission of the newly founded SAV Learned Society.
Prepared by A. Ruttkay using data mainly from the following publications:
Barica, J .: Science and the Nation. Bratislava 1984.
Tibenský, J. History of Science and Technology in Slovakia. Martin 1979.