GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 11-8
Presentation Time: 10:15 AM


INGLEHART, Ashley, History and Philosophy of Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, 5549 Queen Mary Apt. 6, 1011 3rd St, Montreal, QC H3X 1V8, Canada,

In 1651, Roman senator Alfonso Doninni bequeathed to the local Jesuit University, Collegium Romanum, a rather large collection of fossils. The college’s professor of Mathematics, Father Athanasius Kircher, was an eccentric polymath who had himself a large collection of wonders. Kircher was charged with the task of curating the joint their joint collections in what would become one of the very first public museums. The result—the Museum Kircherianum— was not just another cabinet of wonders with an unprecedented number of artifacts. Rather, the Kircher museum would become part of an entirely new method of investigating nature and natural history.

The museum published in 1709 a Latin catalog, Musaeum Kircherianum sive musaeum, which communicated to a large audience both the content and the significance of the museum’s collection. Its author, Filippo Buonanni, was a student of Athanasius Kircher and fellow Jesuit who had spent his entire life in Rome. At first a student at the famed Collegium Romanum, he would later teach there as one of the most learned Jesuit priests of the second half of the seventeenth century. Buonanni became curator of the Museum Kircherianum in 1698, several years after Kircher's death, in short saving the collection from the disrepair that had fallen upon it.

This paper discusses the early development of the Museum Kircherianum and its first successor, Filippo Buonanni. By unravelling the context in which the Museum Kircherianum became a center of research, I intend to argue for the Museum Kircherianum's important role as: 1) a new means of educating the public in natural history; 2) reacting against the new experimental science of the seventeenth century; and 3) producing new and relevant research that would become foundation in the studies of fossils and of geology more broadly.