13 May The Negotiations of Scholars
Acta Eruditorum Anno MDCCXVI
Published by Otto Menke in Leipzig, 1716
Acta Eruditorum is one of the earliest scientific journals we have. Publications of this kind have become indispensable in academia. Most often on an annual basis, researchers publish their latest findings there and review the books authored by fellow researchers. It is not just about sharing knowledge. It is mainly about the colleagues’ reactions. This is how the community of researchers develops what is called “communis opinio”, a theory generally recognized by scientists that becomes the basis of further research.
Scientific journals are a child of the Enlightenment. There is a good reason for this: Right into early modern times, books gained their authority through referring to the Bible or ancient authors. The Enlightenment was the first time that an individual’s observations were considered the measure of all things. Then again, observation is relative. That is why modern research needs a consensus. It is only after the most important representatives of a discipline have reached a consensus of opinion, that the observation of one person can be understood by another one, that it becomes the basis of scientific acceptance.
But how to reach a consensus when researchers are scattered across the globe? Detailed letters are one option – as a matter of fact, a wealth of correspondence from the Age of Enlightenment has come down to us. Important letters were copied and made available to other researchers. This was an unsatisfactory situation, for every correspondence is destined to remain bilateral in terms of concept.
It was left to the scientific journals that have been published since 1665 to make for networking. England and France, where the Enlightenment began earlier than in the German-speaking world, were first. The German Acta Eruditorum (= negotiations of scholars) added to these in 1682. This monthly(!) publication was published by the Leipzig-based scholar Otto Mencke. Spanning 32 pages, it was a slender work, when compared against today’s publications. It contained short articles and book presentations. That’s right, book presentations, not reviews. The aim was not to criticize what was recently published but to make the content of a book known to those who had no access to it.
This takes us right to the Acta Eruditorum’s primary purpose and the reason why the Saxon King and a large part of the German-speaking scholars supported it. This journal served to promote German research abroad and to establish its scientific reputation. To this effect, the contributions were not written in German, but in Latin. That was the then universally accepted language among scientists.
The range of topics included theology and church history, law, medicine and the natural sciences, mathematics, history and geography, philosophy and philology.
The Acta Eruditorum turned out to be a big success, and so, after Otto Mencke died in 1707, his son continued to run the magazine. Our volume dates back to 1716. Even if the research findings it contains have long become obsolete and outdated, it is a valuable testimony to the beginnings of our modern scientific discussion.
The 1716 edition of the Acta Eruditorum contains an impressive list of topics. You can find those here, as well as the articles themselves. But, knowledge of Latin is required.