The Technology Class and Interaction Between Academies

A first report from the SMS-study: Interaction Between Academies – A Study of Science, Innovation and Engineering.

IMG_1521 - Version 2By Katarina Larsen

Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment (KTH)

and Center for History of Science (KVA)


Introducing the project: Interaction between academies

In October 1904, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided that a group of members should be transferred to a new class called Technical Sciences (Tekniska vetenskaper in Swedish). The changing of categories of science within the academy and motives put forward for introducing new categories and merging existing ones is of interest to understand internal drivers for change in organizations. This broader question has been a subject of investigation by scholars in area of Organization studies for many years and subject to analysis in a number of empirical cases. One key question discussed here is concerned with how change was motivated within the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS) with respect to organizing science in a set of science categories (classes) for members of the academy.

Another question in this study is concerned with interaction between academies as a driver for change and channel for exchange of ideas. In sociology, the concept of “interlocking directorates” is used to illustrate the overlap between boards (i.e. members that are on boards of several companies). This is examined by studying interaction between RSAS and other academies, such as the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) and science academies abroad, such as the Royal Society in England. The changes taking place within the academy, are representing changes in an institution of science and technology and can give us better understanding of how new science categories are motivated historically and also contribute to contemporary analysis of emergence of sub-disciplines of science.

Changing categories of research

Not even one year after the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences was formed the question about creating a set of science categories within the academy was raised. The motivation for dividing into groups of science areas has its roots in a specialization argument relating to the practical work of members of the academy, describing that:

each and one (of the members of the academy) would, in accordance with interest and experience, be able to assess the findings and propositions received within that area of science. [Translation from Swedish by the author.]

But what different categories would be used?

The 6th February 1740, the following division into categories was decided by the academy: 1.) Astra (including Astronomy); 2.) Elementa (including Geometry, Mechanics etc); 3.) Naturalia (including Botany, Zoology etc); 4.) Artificialia (including raw materials processing, commerce, medicine etc); 5.) Lingua (“Those concerned with the Swedish language”).

This was the first set of categories for members of the academy – but far from the last one! This suggestion of classes was contested and debated, as described in Sven Lindroth’s account of the History of the RSAS.

ImageIt was not until 1798 that  categories were implemented in the strict sense dividing the 100 members of the academy into seven categories with some overlaps where one member was associated with more than one class.

In 1821, two more categories were added and in October 1904 it was decided to make a division into eleven categories – including the new class of Technical sciences (Tekniska vetenskaper) as the 9th class. Thereby the following categories were established: 1) Pure Mathematics; 2) Applied Mathematics and Astronomy; 3) Physics and meteorology; 4) Chemistry; 5) Mineralogy, geology and geography; 6) Botany; 7) Zoology; 8) Medical sciences; 9) Technical sciences; 10) Economic, statistical and social sciences; as well as the 11th category for “Other sciences” for achievements in scientific research.

One the members of the 9th class from the start was Johan August Brinell, an engineer and member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences since 1902. He also became a member of  IVA – Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in 1919 and was  active in editorial group of a  journal devoted to mining and metallurgy, first published in 1816, called Jernkontorets Annaler. In an account of the history of Jernkontoret (published 1920), the chairman describes the role of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for this community:

”In fact, during the entire 1700s, The Proceedings of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences played the role of our Mining Industry’s scientific journal.” [Translation from Swedish by the author.]

With changes occurring through institutionalization of technology and engineering communities (IVA created in 1919, and the degree of Technologie Doctor established in 1920), this point in time is of interest for analysis of discourses in the interface between science and engineering, such as the historical account of scientific activities in the example above. With the creation of the class of Technology sciences, it is also an interesting time to examine how members of these two Swedish academies overlap, such as the case of Brinell’s interlocked membership of IVA and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.    

Members of the classes were also responsible for evaluating candidates for several prizes. For example, the members of the newly established Technology class were responsible (together with the Economy class) for evaluating nominations to the Arnberg prize established through the will of a former member of the academy, Johan Wolter Arnberg. In 1905, this prize was awarded to Lilli Zickerman, known as one of the founding mothers of the arts and craft movement in Sweden. However, this was not the work of the newly established a Technology class, since the nomination of her was made already in January 1904 for her travels to north of Sweden to document handicraft and described it in a book (Hemslöjden som nödhjälp, från en Novemberresa i Lappland 1902). The motivation was  that this work had been accompanied by “a knowledgeable and strong activity on her part to generate new and revive old traditional handicraft.”

ImageIn the following year, the Arnberg Prize it was awarded for work with Statistical data tables from different countries. This reflects the wide span of areas of work that could be considered for a prize awarded in categories of technical, economic or statistical sciences  – with the prizewinner of year 1905 thoroughly documenting textiles and handicraft techniques, some of which are on display in the Lilli Zickerman Archive, at the Nordic Museum.

Work ahead on interaction between Academies and the Republic of Letters

In the study of interaction between academies there is ongoing collaboration with scholars at Stanford University representing the project Republic of Letters. In the next steps we will go ahead with analysis of international interaction and exchange between members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and academies in other countries. The approach is to combine the experiences from visualizing international interaction between academies (and letters of correspondence) with historical source material starting in the 1700s. So it is very exciting to start with the pilot study for that and I will keep you posted on this further work on interaction between academies. In the meanwhile, have a look at some work visualizing correspondence networks of scholars including Galileo and Voltaire in the project Republic of Letters.


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