The Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Founded in 1825

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences was named the Hungarian Scholarly Society when it was founded in Pest in 1825. It had a charter which stated that there could be no more than 42 members, of whom no more than 18 could be from Pest and no more than 24 from outside Pest. The Society had six departments: history, law, linguistics, mathematics, philosophy and natural sciences. When the Society was founded the mathematics department had a maximum of six members, at most three from Pest and at most three from outside. However these were not filled and in the first 45 years of the Society's existance there were only two or three mathematicians.

The young Society had a number of issues which they deemed important to make rapid progress on. One was to develop a dictionary of Hungarian mathematical terms so that those writing in the Hungarian language could use genuine Hungarian words and also achieve a consistency of Hungarian notation. The Society published an Hungarian Mathematical Dictionary in 1834 but it failed to achieve the aims we have described [1]:-
The impact of the dictionary on the Hungarian mathematical language is negligible, having fallen short of its express aim of creating a unified Hungarian mathematical volcabulary. This was caused not so much by the defectiveness of terminology as to the editors' reluctance voiced in the Preface to take sides and to specify the principles to be followed in coining Hungarian terms.
The publication of Euclid's Elements in Hungarian by the Society in 1832 was probably more significant. Another aim was to bring into the Society international figures of high repute who would enhance the reputation of the Society on the international stage. The first such foreign member was Babbage, elected in 1833, followed by Gauss and Poncelet in 1847 and John Herschel and Quetelet in 1858. Another aim of the young Society was to found a technical university where mathematics and the technical sciences would be taught to a high standard. The Society made a good start on publishing, and they brought out Yearbooks from very early on, then from 1840 they started publication of a scientific journal Magyar Académiai Ertesito. The journal was split into two in 1859, then three covering different areas.

The Academy hit real problems in 1849 following the Hungarian War of Independence. In that year the Hungarians had defeated the Habsburgs and declared Hungarian independence on 14 April. Following this a combined force from Russia and Austria retook the country and the Hungarian army surrendered on 13 August. A period followed where many Hungarians were shot or imprisoned. Members of the Academy fared particularly badly since many had actively supported the war of independence, while even those who had called for a Hungarian Technical University to be set up were forced into voluntary exile. Vienna banned meetings of the Academy in the period immediately after the war and even when this was relaxed in the mid 1850s, since no new members were permitted to be elected, it looked as though the Society would die a slow death. However from 1858 new members were admitted.

The Habsburg Empire was weakened by external conflicts over the decades following the Hungarian War of Independence. This allowed the Academy to begin again to support ventures to strengthen Hungarian scholarship and, in 1860, a committee was set up to give special support to mathematics and natural science. In the Compromise of 1867 the Hungarian Kingdom and the Austrian Empire became independent states within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The Compromise led to rising standards of education in mathematics and the sciences and after pressure from the Academy, the Technical University of Budapest was set up from the polytechnic school in 1871. In fact Budapest was created from the union of the towns of Pest, Buda, and Obuda in the following year.

The Academy continued with its policy of appointing foreign members, most of whom in the last quarter of the 19th century had direct connections to Hungarian scientists. In mathematics Cayley, Hermite, Helmholtz, Kronecker, Du Bois-Reymond, Fuchs, Klein, Stäckel, Darboux and Mittag-Leffler all became members.

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References (show)

  1. B Szénássy, History of Mathematics in Hungary until the 20th Century (Berlin-Heidelberg-New York, 1992).
  2. B Szénássy, A magyarországi matematika története (a legrégibb idöktöl a 20. század elejéig) (Budapest, 1970).
  3. The first century of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Hungarian) (Budapest, 1926).
  4. J Kürschák, The last hundred years in the history of Hungarian mathematics, in The first century of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Hungarian) (Budapest, 1926), 451-459.

Last Updated August 2004