Netherlands Academy of Sciences

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded on 8 May 1808, although its name at this time was the Royal Institute of Science, Letters and Fine Arts. Louis Napoléon Bonaparte (1778-1846), a younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, ruled over the Kingdom of Holland from 1806 to 1810 as Louis I. He had seen other countries found academies, so he decided to found one himself in Amsterdam. The Institute he set up was, because Holland was ruler by the French, inevitably based on a French model of an academy. The Royal Decree signed by Louis I stated that the new Institute was to [10]:-

... endeavour to perfect the Sciences and the Arts, to make such improvements in the Kingdom known to Foreigners, and to introduce inventions or improvements from elsewhere here in the country.
It was to follow the model of the French Academy in that its members were to be "the most excellent scientists and scholars from throughout the Kingdom." It was divided into four subject areas, namely (i) Mathematics and Physics; (ii) Dutch Literature and History; (iii) Ancient and Eastern Literature; and (iv) History and Fine Arts.

The Royal Institute of Science, Letters and Fine Art did not have its own building when it was founded and members gathered at different locations in the city. The annual general meeting was held in the left half of the Trippenhuis Building which was owned by Cornelis Roos, an art collector, poet, and member of the History and Fine Arts Section of the Academy who had made the purchase in 1797. Louis I wanted to house all the institutes and museums that he had founded in a single building and he aimed at all being housed in a Hall of Arts and Sciences.

Although the early Royal Institute of Science, Letters and Fine Arts was very much set up following the ideas of Louis I, two years after its founding Louis I had to give the throne to one of his sons. When Napoleon Bonaparte threatened to take Amsterdam by force in 1810 Louis Napoléon Bonaparte resigned as King and his son Napoléon Louis Bonaparte became ruler, known as Louis II. The Kingdom of Holland now became part of the French Empire. By this time the right half of the Trippenhuis Building had become empty and members of the Institute were able to rent it. On 25 May 1812 all four sections of the Institute met in the Trippenhuis Building located along a canal in Kloveniersburgwal. Members of the Institute felt that they now had a building worthy of their prestigious body [11]:-

The Institute is now housed in a building suitable for all its functions, whose stateliness is fit for an assembly convened by the Emperor, and whose lustre is precisely what it should be for the Third City of the Empire.
Cornelis Roos, who had owned the left half of the Trippenhuis Building, sold it and in 1814 this part of the building became the National Museum. Now the French had left in 1813 and after a period when different plans for the area were proposed, in 1815 the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed with William I as king. In 1825 Adolphe Quetelet became a corresponding member of the Royal Institute of Science, Letters and Fine Arts and two years later he was elected as a full member. He undertook a statistical analysis, covering mortality, educations and other factors, which showed that the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was significantly better off than other countries. Also elected to the Institute on 11 October 1827 was Wilhelm Bessel. There was unhappiness, however, between Belgium and the other provinces and in 1839 Belgium left the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 1840 William I abdicated with his son William II becoming king. The Netherlands, however, had failed to match Belgium in development and following the unrest across all of Europe in 1848, William II was persuaded to allow liberal and democratic reform.

The king asked Johan Rudolf Thorbecke (1798-1872) to draft a new constitution which came into force on 3 November 1848. William II died in 1849 and was succeeded by William III who, reluctantly, chose Thorbecke to head the government. One of Thorbecke's first moves was to cut the budget of the Royal Institute to less than half of what it had been. Thorbecke was himself a member of the Royal Institute so one has to ask why he made this move. Certainly the new constitution had reduced the influence of the king and so the fact that it was a Royal Institute could explain this. Another possibility would be that Thorbecke, as a member the Institute, would feel that he would increase his popularity in the country if he treated it harshly. Most certainly this move did not make him popular among intellectuals. Members of the Institute put up with the 1849 budget but when the government only allocated a trivial sum in 1850 they began to fight to save the Royal Institute.

Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876) was an historian who was a member of the Royal Institute and also a member of the government. He proposed restoring the budget for the Institute to its 1848 level but this was opposed by Thorbecke and the government rejected van Prinsterer's proposal. The Royal Institute then stated that it would have to close unless it was properly funded. The members approached king William III who agreed to fund the Institute out of his own pocket. Thorbecke and William III certainly did not have a good relationship and Thorbecke was determined that the king should not give the Institute what it wanted against the wishes of the government. On 26 October 1851, Thorbecke issued a Decree closing the Royal Institute of Science, Letters and Fine Art putting in its place a Royal Academy of Sciences. Basically this new Academy was to be the Mathematics and Physics Section of the Royal Institute. There was certainly some sense in this from the government's point of view for almost all output from the Royal Institute which was useful to the government had come from this Section.

On 19 April 1853 Thorbecke was forced to resign after it was claimed he had sympathies with the Roman Catholic Church and Floris Adriaan van Hall (1791- 1866) became head of the government [12]:-

... the new Cabinet extended the Academy's mission to include "the advancement of linguistics, literature, history and philosophy". Since that time, the Academy has had two Divisions: Literature (humanities and social sciences) and Natural Science (science, medicine and technology). The artists and amateurs never returned.
The Academy continued to flourish and we record a few of those with biographies in our archive who were elected in the 19th century. Adolphe Quetelet, already a member of the Royal Institute, became a member of the newly formed Royal Academy of Sciences as a foreign member when it was created on 26 October 1851. Also at this time François Arago who had been a member of the Royal Institute since 1827, Carl Friedrich Gauss who had been a member of the Royal Institute since 1845, and Michael Faraday who had been a member of the Royal Institute since 1849, became foreign members of the Academy. John Herschel was elected as a foreign member of the Academy on 1 May 1858. George Biddell Airy was elected as a foreign member on 4 May 1859. Hendrik Lorentz was elected a member on 10 May 1881. Charles Hermite was elected as a foreign member on 10 May 1890. J Willard Gibbs was elected as a foreign member on 10 May 1892. Arthur Cayley was elected as a foreign member on 12 May 1893. Ludwig Boltzmann, Felix Klein and Henri Poincaré were elected as foreign members on 11 May 1897. Simon Newcomb was elected as a foreign member on 13 May 1898. Gaston Darboux was elected as a foreign member on 10 May 1901.

In 1902 [13]:-

... the Nobel Prize for Physics went to Academy members Hendrik Lorentz and Pieter Zeeman. The Nobel Prizes did not make a very deep impression on other Academy members. The prizes had only recently been established, and were not yet viewed with the almost mystical reverence with which they are currently regarded. The minutes of the Academy meeting of 27 December 1902 mention the prizes in passing; indeed, the document wastes few words on them: "The Chairman reminded the Meeting that Messrs Lorentz and Zeeman had been accorded the Nobel Prize for Physics. He praised them and thanked them on behalf of the Division for the way in which they had endeavoured to bring honour to Dutch science." The meeting then carried on with its normal business.
In 1938 the Academy adopted the name by which it is known today, namely the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. When World War II broke out in 1939 the Netherlands claimed neutrality. This, however, did not stop the German armies entering the country in the spring of 1940 and soon the country was occupied by German troops. The government and Queen Wilhelmina escaped to England where they formed a government in exile. In August 1940 the Academy received an order from the occupiers that they must remove the "Royal" from their name. From that time until the end of the war in 1945, the Academy was known as the Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, but as soon as Germany was defeated they restored their Royal name.

Since 1853 the Academy had consisted of two divisions, namely the Humanities and Social Sciences Division and the Science Division. Each Division had a Chairperson. The Academy did not have President until 1973 when the office of President was created to form a link between the two Divisions. The first President was the physicist Hendik Casimir (1909-2000) who, of course, was a member of the Science Division. The President serves for three years and is chosen alternately from the two Divisions.

In 2005 the Academy set up The Young Academy [19]:-

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences decided to set up the Young Academy in 2005. The Young Academy operates independently within the Royal Academy. It has its own working plan, organises its own events and is responsible for its own viewpoints. The Young Academy and the Royal Academy cooperate mainly on interdisciplinary and scientific projects and lectures. The Young Academy has fifty members. All have received their doctorates less than ten years before their appointment to the Academy. They represent a broad spectrum of scientific and scholarly disciplines and work at Dutch universities and research institutes.
The Young Academy has the following objectives:

  1. The Young Academy actively brings researchers into contact with disciplines outside their own area of specialisation and in doing so encourages interdisciplinary research.

  2. The Young Academy asks its members to make an active contribution to the future of their own and ancillary disciplines and to formulate their views on science policy.

  3. The Young Academy consults with scientific organisations and ministries and advises them on science policy.

  4. The Young Academy conveys its fascination with science and scientific insights to the public and pupils and students, and considers the matter of valorisation in the broadest sense of the word.
The duties, activities, and mission of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences are given in [21]:-


The duties of the Academy are:

  1. to serve as a learned society representing the full spectrum of scientific and scholarly disciplines;

  2. to act as a management body for national research institutes;

  3. to advise the Dutch Government on matters related to scientific pursuit.

The Academy's activities, needed to fulfil its duties, are as follows. It:

  1. serves as a forum for debate and a platform for knowledge-sharing;

  2. manages and sets policy for the national research institutes;

  3. issues advisory reports and foresight studies;

  4. cooperates with foreign and international organisations on matters related to science and scholarship;

  5. awards prizes and runs a number of funding programmes, either in its own name or on behalf of a foundation or fund that has been entrusted to it.
As the forum, conscience, and voice of the arts and sciences in the Netherlands, the Academy promotes quality in science and scholarship and strives to ensure that Dutch scholars and scientists contribute to cultural, social and economic progress. As a research organisation, the Academy is responsible for a group of outstanding national research institutes. It promotes innovation and knowledge valorisation within these institutes and encourages them to cooperate with one another and with university research groups.

List of References (23 books/articles)

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