Patriotic Science and the Weal
of the Nation
IN 1808, JOACHIM STERNBERG published an account of his travels through Hungarian mining villages the previous spring. In justifying his choice of destination, he explained, “Since nearly all of Europe’s roads are strewn with corpses, I have chosen this time a place where the thirsty plants do not yet drink the blood of men, so that I might, despite destiny, move among happy people.”1 Sternberg made clear that he undertook these travels to find some respite from war in science and nature, specifically by furthering his studies in metallurgy and meteorology. Sternberg’s explanation highlights an important aspect of the relationship of this generation to science, and understanding that relationship is critical to understanding the growth and agenda of scientifically oriented institutions. For the aristocratic generation mature in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, science was an alternate realm both separated from the dangers of modern political and social life and yet able to provide the solutions for political and social problems. Joachim Sternberg and his compatriots, as they retreated from political life in the face of both revolution and restrictive politics, sought refuge in institutions of learning established in the flush of Enlightenment principles and turned to science to provide answers for the ills of the national community. Scientifically oriented institutions, by virtue of their emphasis on learning and scientific contributions, were ground zero for changes in sociability as well.
Although aristocrats were definitively involved in the establishment and growth of new institutions, the institutions reflected a different type of social networking as members were drawn in by intellectual interests. This “new society” in turn comprised a set of institutions at the forefront of intellectual activity that served to fashion national identity. Within these institutions,