From Yu.S. Osipov's book
«Academy of Sciences in the History of the Russian State» Moscow, «NAUKA», 1999
The creation of the Academy of Sciences is directly connected with Peter the Great’s reformer activities aimed at strengthening the state, its economic and political independence. Peter the Great understood the importance of scientific thought, education and culture for the prosperity of the country. And he started acting “from above”.
Under his project, the Academy was substantially different from all related foreign organizations. It was a state institution; while on a payroll, its members had to provide for the scientific and technical services of thee state. The Academy combined the functions of scientific research and training, having its own university and a high school.
On December 27, 1725, the Academy celebrated its creation with a large public meeting. This was a solemn act of appearance of a new attribute of Russian state life.
Academic Conference has become a body of collective discussion and estimation of research results. The scientists were not tied up by any dominating dogma, were free in their scientific research, and took an active part in the scientific opposition between the Cartesians and Newtonians. Possibilities to publish scientific works were practically unlimited.
Physician Lavrentii Blumentrost was appointed first President of the Academy. Taking care of bringing the Academy’s activities to the world level, Peter the Great invited leading foreign scientists. Among the first were mathematicians Nikolas and Daniil Bornoulli, Christian Goldbach, physicist Georg Bulfinger, astronomer and geographer J.Delille, historian G.F.Miller. In 1727, Leonard Eiler joined the Academy.
In the first three decades, the Academy’s research work was done in the three directions (of “classes”): mathematical, physical (natural sciences) and the humanities. Actually, the Academy at once joined in multiplying the scientific and cultural riches of the country. It got a splendid collection of the Cabinet of Curiosities. An anatomical theater, a department of geography, and astronomical observatory, a physical cabinet, and a mineralogical cabinet were set up. The Academy had a botanical garden and instrumental shops. Here, prominent botanists I.G.Gmelin and I.G.Kelreiter, the founder of embrylolgy K.F.Volf, the famous naturalist and traveler P.S.Pallas were working. Work on electricity and magnetism theory was done by G.V.Rikgman and F.U.Eoubys. Thanks to the academic scientists’ research, foundations for development of mining, metallurgy, and other branches of Russian industry were laid. Work on geodesy and cartography was going on. In 1745, the first general map of the country, the Atlas of Russia, was created.
From the start, the activities of the Academy let it take an honorable place among the greatest scientific institutions of Europe. This was prompted by the fame of such giants as L. Eiler and M.Lomonosov.
The fruitful, really titanic scientific activities of the great scientist Leonard Eiler started in St.Petersburg Academy of Sciences. The mathematical research of L.Eiler heralded the most important stage in the development of calculus after Newton and Leibliz. L.Eiler obtained deep results in number theory, set foundations for complex analysis, variational calculus, analytical mechanics, and, together with Daniil Bernoulli, hydrodynamics. His mathematical research was closely related to practical problems in mechanics, ballistics, cartography, shipbuilding, and navigation. L.Eiler brought up first Russian mathematicians later becoming Academy members.
The scientific, educational and organizing activities of the great scientist and a person of encyclopaedic learning. Mikhail Lomonosov made as much as a whole era in the Academy’s history. He enriched the Academy with fundamental discoveries in chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology, geography, and made a large contribution to the development of history, linguistics and poetry. He set up Russia’s first chemical laboratory in 1748. In 1755, he took an active part in founding Moscow University now rightfully bearing his name.
On the Academy’s initiative and with its participation, complex expedition were carried out, making an enormous contribution to the discovery of Russia’s natural resources, and ethnographic research of the country’s territories from the White to the Caspian Seas, from the western regions to Kamchatka. The Great Northern Expedition of 1733-1742 and the academic expeditions of 1760-1770, the fundamental works of their participants I.G.Gmelin, S.G.Gelin, A.P.Gorlanov Sea, S.P.Kracheninnikov, S.P.Pallas and other played an outstanding role in the development of geography, biology, ethnography, history and culture of the peoples of Russia, and were highly praised in Europe, discovering territories little known to European researchers. They solved the problem of a bay between Asia and America, and the northeastern borders of Russia. The regions’ maps were made, fauna and flora studied, mineral resources discovered, history, ethnography, economic activities of the people lining there descried, and their languages studied. G.V.Steller, who sailed together with V.Bering, started pioneer studies of the nature and everyday life of the peoples of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.
The academy started publishing Russian history sources, and participants in its expeditions collected artifacts of the numerous peoples living in the suburbs of the Empire. The works of V.N.Tatishchev, M.V.Lomonosov, G.F.Miller, M.M.Scervatov, I.N.Boltin, publishing The Oldest Russian Bibliotheca, setting up departments of archives and manuscripts in museums crowned the making of history as a science in Russia. In the early forties, several volumes of the catalog of collections of the Cabinet of Curiosities were Published. The Academy becomes a keeper of the monuments of home and world science. In 1773, 18 volumes of Kepler’s manuscripts were acquired, even now a pride of the academic archives and used by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in publishing his complete works. A very rich collection of scientific correspondence of the 18th century was being amassed, the most valuable monument not only of Russian but also of Pan-European culture. The Academy was constantly in touch with European scientific journals publishing abstracts of its publications.
Since 1728, a journal in Latin, or, more precisely, an annual collection of scientific papers. Commentarii Peterburgskoi akademii nauk (Commentaries of St.Petersburg Academy of Sciences) was launched, which enjoyed wide popularity with the scientific community as one of the leading scientific journals in Europe.
The Academy set up its own printing press, quickly winning an excellent reputation. The press was assigned to publish all kinds (except for ecclesiastical) of the literature in the country. This marked immediately the leading role of the Academy in the general development of Russian culture.
As early as 1736, the well-known French physicist D. de Merand wrote that “St.Petersburg Academy since its inception rose to an outstanding scientific height, which the Paris and London Academies reached only after 60 years of hard work”.
In 1748, first Russian President of the Academy (Count K.G.Razumovsky) was appointed. Native scientists started being elected to the Academy. The first Russian academicans became S.P. Krasheninnikov, author of the first natural science book Description of the Land of Kamchatka written in Russian, M.V.Lomonosov, poet V.k.Tredyakovsky, and later astronomers N.I.Popov, S.Ya.Rumovsky, P.B.Inokhodtsev, naturalists I.I.Lepekhin, N.Ya.Ozeretskovsky, V.F.Zuev, and others.
The Academy publications actively contributed to the spreading of scientific knowledge. In Notes to the Records, papers on natural phenomena and minerals, machines and devices, travels, remote lands and peoples, diseases and their treatment, poetic and dramatic arts, opera and many other things appeared. Callendars published by the Academy in two languages reached a wide audience. They regularly published papers on historical and natural sciences. And though by the end of the century, private book publishing and journalism gained ground, it is the academic publications that maintained the leadership in the propaganda of science (we are still leaders in the field). The variety of themes covered by the Russian language journal Monthly Compositions for Use and Entertainment (1755-1764) was ample. Later, Academic News appeared, as well as other popular publications authored by academicians or placing translations o foreign popular science literature.
A bright spot in the cultural life of St.Petersburg was public lectures given in 1785-1802 for all those interested in science. Almost all Russian academicians and adjuncts used to give lectures on mathematics, physics, mineralogy and natural history. The readings, which were held in Russian, gathered large audiences.
University was an inseparable part of the Academy. In had to train scientific cadres University sis work quite regularly in the fifties and early sixties when under and active care of M.V.Lomonosov. After his death, Academic University was on the decline, and dissolved in 1767. Its role in training firs native academicians was very important. The Academy assisted in setting up Moscow University in 1755, completed the education of geodesists from the Naval Academy in its Observatory, took part in the affairs of the Cadet Corps, taught physiology to physicians at the Army ad Naval hospitals. In a word, the Academy’s role in uplifting the educational level of the first native specialists was undoubtedly great.
The Academy played an enormous role in drawing up and executing the school reform of the eighties and nineties o the 18th century. The Academy members worked out its main provisions, took part in training first professional teachers. Wrote and published about 30 textbooks and manuals. As defined by S.I.Vavilov, “in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Russian Academy was a synonym for Russian science”.
In the 18th century, the titles of honorary members and corresponding members of the Academy were granted tomore than 160 foreign scientists (F.Voltaire, D.Diderot, J.D’Alembert, C.Linnaeus, B.Franklin, and others). In turn, L.Eiler, M.V.Lomonosov, I.I.Lepekhin, S.Ya.Rumovsky, and P.S.Pallas became honorary members of foreign academies.
In 1783, in pfrallel with the St.Petersburg Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy was founded, whose main goal was to compile a dictionary of the Russian language. Its members were the famous Russian writers and poets D.I.Fonvizin, G.R.Derzhavin, and, since 1833, the genius of Russian poetry A.S.Pushkin, as well as scientists S.K.Kotelnokov, A.P.Protasov, S.Ya.Rumovsky, and others. One of the initiators of inception and the first chairperson of this Academy was Countess Ye.R.Dachkova. In 1841, the Russian Academy was dissolved, and some of its members joined the Academy of Sciences’ Department of the Russian Language and Literature.
Completing the survey of the first 75 years of the work of the Academy and passing on to the next historic stage of its life, I cannot help quoting the Academy’s Statute of 1803, approved by Alexander I and, together with that of 1836, becoming a base for the academic life in the next hundred odd years. It vividly depicts the history of the Academy’s creation, the role assigned, and the place in the life of the Russian state at the time:
“All the enlightened persons at various times felt how much the joint effort of many scientists inspired by the same striving for perfecting sciences adds to the success of the latter. Founded in their bosom and under the patronage of their Sovereigns, both the Academies and the scientific societies, directing the activities of their members to a unique goal, undertook and made important deeds, and enriched sciences with discoveries, which without that happy combination of striving and knowledge, might perish irreparable for the human race.
“Thus, Russia,, too, shares with them the glory of spreading the sciences’ limits. During his travels, God bless his memory, sovereign Peter the Great was an obvious witness to the use of these educational establishments, and conceiving desire to erect a temple of sciences, whose been factory affect would also spread onto the remote countries of the Empire, in his new capital, intended to bound and Academy, no sooner had drawn up its Statute than death suddenly cut his glorious life. Empress Catherine I completed what was started by her consort; she arranged for this Academy of Sciences, which, under the partronage of successors to the Russian throne and having been granted regulations by, God bless her memory, Empress Elisabeth, spreading the sphere of its, activities, repeatedly proved, especially during the glorious reign of Empress Catherine II, the use which similar institutions sensible governed and strongly supported by the government can bring to the state, which is confirmed by many deeds undertaken by her; above all, glorious and successfully completed journeys for studying and describing the natural works of Russia, and the expedition for astronomical observations.
“Having made sure that spreading of sciences and perfecting useful knowledge is most beneficial for the well-being of peoples, we turned our special attention to the Academy of Sciences, and, having found that its previous regulations did not correspond to the present time, that the amount appointed to it was quite insufficient, and that various obstacles proceeding from this had subsequently weakened its activities, we judged it right to publish new regulations for it, and a new list corresponding to the present circumstances and cooperative with the goal designed to it…
“The primary objective of the Academy comes from the very goal of its establishment common with that of all the Academies and scientific communities: to extend the range of human knowledge, perfect the sciences, enrich them with new discoveries, promote education, as much as possible, to direct knowledge to common benefit, adapting theories and useful consequences of the experiments and observations to practical use; this is, in short, a book of the Academy’s duties.
“To the duties common with other Academies, the duty to address its work directly to the use of Russia, promoting knowledge of natural works of the Empire, discovering means of multiplying such that make up the subject of popular industry and trade, of improving the state of factories, manufactures, trades and arts – these sources of the wealth and power of states.”