Academy of Sciences of Lisbon

Founded in 1779

The Academy of Sciences of Lisbon was founded as the Royal Academy of Sciences of Lisbon by a decree of Queen Maria on 24 December 1779. The opening address was by the Oratorian priest Teodoro de Almeida and delivered on 4 June 1780. In this address Almeida called Portugal "the centre of ignorance" in which the new Academy would seek to improve matters, but this caused controversy. Although all agreed that Portugal should modernise itself, the dispute was over how that could be attained. For example, should teaching be secular or should it be determined by the Church? However, modelled on other European Academies, the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon rapidly became an important factor in modernising the country with most leading Portuguese scholars becoming members. The Academy gives this account of its founding:
Its founding members - the Duke of Lafoes, its first President, and the Abbot Correia da Serra, its Second Secretary - envisaged the Academy as an institution which would help to develop science and learning for the progress and prosperity of the country. They guided their actions by the following motto: "Nisi utile est quod facimus, stulta est Gloria" (Unless what we do is useful, our fame is vain). The Academy extended its activity not only to the Natural Sciences, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, History and Linguistics, but also to the Applied Sciences, Economics, Agricultural and Industrial Developments, Public Health, Teaching, etc.
When founded the Academy had three Classes: Natural Sciences, Exact Sciences and Fine Arts. In 1797 the first volume of the Academy's journal appeared. This first volume was named Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Lisbon and contained papers written from the founding of the Academy up to 1788. This first volume contains a Prologue that explains the idea behind setting up the Academy [1]:
It is stated that it was founded at a time when science had progressed qualitatively, when people were experiencing a unique time of discovery, and this in all layers of the Universe, both in the depths of the Earth, on its surface, and in its atmosphere, and in the faraway parts of the Cosmos, a time when the philosopher wanted not only to know the causes of properties and laws, but also "to measure and number their quantity." The founding of "literary corporations" is one of the most efficient means to increase all kinds of knowledge, and this is highlighted as the main reason for the establishment of the Academy, together with the patriotic duty of contributing to the development of Portugal. It is stated that this country, by the size of its territories, and the extent of its colonies, is a good field for the research of the naturalist, the chemist, and the anatomist. And it is stated that "this required the progress of all fields in mathematics, which will lead to perfecting the art of navigation, one of the main pillars of the nation's strength and wealth." The Prologue ends by mentioning that the publication of the Memoirs of the Academy aims not only to make known the work of its members but also to promote public utility, "the purpose of the Academy."
The second volume of the Memoirs appeared in 1799 but was renamed Memoirs of Mathematics and Physics of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Lisbon. The work of the Academy over the following years was made difficult by various wars. For example, Spain invaded in 1801 and a short war followed, then a more serious conflict occurred in 1807 when Napoleon invaded. The Peninsular War, as it was called, continued until 1814. The Academy of Sciences of Lisbon managed to operate by 1812 when the third volume of the Memoirs appeared.

After a Civil War in 1832-34, a period of stability in Portugal allowed educational reform in 1836 but the 1846-47 Civil War again led to turbulence. In May 1851 a military putsch led to longer term political stability. The Academy of Sciences of Lisbon was reorganised in 1851 and this led to a marked increase in mathematical research in the country. This reform reduced the original three Classes to two, namely Science and Letters. The 1851 Statutes required the foundation of two new publications, a bulletin for the proceedings of the meetings of the Academy and a journal which would contain scientific papers which could not be published in the Academy's Memoirs. The Annaes de Sciencias e Lettras was established in 1857 but was quickly discontinued in 1858. The Jornal de Sciencias Mathematicas, Physicas e Naturaes was established in 1866 and continued to be published until 1923.

Today the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon states that its main purposes are:
a) to promote and stimulate scientific research and to disseminate its achievements; b) to stimulate the enrichment of thought, literature, language and other forms of culture; c) to encourage the study of Portuguese history and its relationship with the history of other nations, and to investigate and publish the sources of documentation; d) to collaborate in education and teaching activities; e) to assist the Government in an advisory capacity with scientific and linguistic problems of national interest; f) to preserve and improve the Portuguese language in connection with the Brazilian Academy of Letters and with similar institutions of Portuguese-speaking countries g) and to participate in cultural exchanges with other countries. The Academy members are elected on a merit base for scholarly or scientific achievements. The election process involves proposal, discussion of curriculum and balloting in the class meeting of full member convened exclusively for this purpose. The Academy has two classes: Sciences and Letters, and each has, among national members: 35 full members and 70 corresponding members distributed in seven sections. The Academy has a number of foreign members as well. The Class of Sciences is composed of the following seven sections: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Space and Earth Sciences, Biological Sciences; Medical Sciences, Engineering Sciences and other Applied Sciences.

Visit the society website.

References (show)

  1. L M R Saraiva, Mathematics in the Memoirs of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences in the 19th century, Historia Mathematica 35 (2008), 302-326.
  2. L M R Saraiva, The Lisbon Academy of Sciences and the development of mathematics in Portugal in the 19th century, in M Kokowski (ed.), The Global and the Local: The History of Science and the Cultural Integration of Europe, Cracow, Poland, 6-9 September, 2006 (Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cracow, 2007).

Last Updated February 2017