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Linné on line arrow The History of Ideas arrow The notion of utility arrow The Royal Academy of Sciences

The Royal Academy of Sciences

From its foundation in 1739, the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences constituted one of the most significant institutions in the cultural life of Sweden in the 18th century. Today the Royal Academy of Sciences is primarily associated with the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and Physics, which it awards every year (as of 1901, with the addition of the Prize in Economics in memory of Alfred Nobel as of 1969).

Carolus Linnaeus was the best known of the six scientists and politicians who took the initiative to found the Royal Academy of Sciences. The objective was more practical and down to earth than might be thought today. They wished to disseminate new knowledge in natural science, thereby ensuring that the findings would be applied in practice. It was hoped that the great advances in Swedish science would lead to equivalent progress in the Swedish economy. Farmers, for instance, would be rapidly informed of new findings about how agriculture could be carried out more efficiently. A key function in the transmission of knowledge was played by the clergy, see clergy zoologists.

A step in the popularization of science was the publication series Vetenskapsakademiens Handlingar (Proceedings of the Royal Academy of Sciences), which started as early as 1739. Scientific articles were often written in Latin in the 18th century, but in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy treatises could be read in Swedish. This made science a matter of interests to more than a tiny academically trained elite.

The economic motive behind the establishment of the Academy was so strong that plans were initially in place to call the society an ‘academy of economics.’ We can see the clear connection with the strongly utilitarian thinking of the 18th century, see The notion of utility. The founding of the Royal Academy of Sciences meant that the capital city, Stockholm, also became an intellectual center, alongside the two university towns.

Tore Frängsmyr, Science in Sweden: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 1739–1989

Bengt Hildebrand, Kungl. Svenska Vetenskapsakademien: Förhistoria, grundläggning och första organisation (1939)

Sten Lindroth, Kungliga Svenska Vetenskapsakademiens historia 1739–1818 (1967)