Rare Book of the Month: Acta Eruditorum

Acta Eruditorum SpinesIn the spirit of Canada’s Science Literacy Week dedicated to promoting scientific endeavors to the general public, we’re highlighting one of the earliest European academic journals, Acta Eruditorum. During the Scientific Revolution, the development of scholarly journals was a major innovation in sharing early scientific discoveries, and they remain a significant outlet for the communication of ideas today.


University Professor Otto Menke first published AE as a monthly journal in 1682 in Leipzig Germany, basing it on the Royal Society of London’s Philosophical Transactions and the French Journal des Sçavans, both founded in 1665. All articles in AE were written in or translated into Latin to appeal to the broader European scientific community. The journal primarily published announcements, book reviews, and abstracts from new works. It also included short essays of original works mainly on the natural sciences & medicine, philosophy and mathematics.  Some famous names who published in the periodical include Boyle, Leeuwenhoek, Leibniz, and Bernoulli among others.

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In a time when much scientific discourse occurred through asynchronous personal correspondence among groups of scientists, journals like AE provided a new forum for discussion and further advancement of innovation. Journals also enabled early scientists to claim ownership of scientific discoveries publicly by sharing their findings first, leading to heated disputes when other scientists had made the same discovery simultaneously. While Menke as an editor sought to prevent arguments in AE, a number of controversies played out on its pages. The most significant was the dispute between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over who should rightly take credit for differential calculus.2

While many volumes of AE have been digitized and can be found on HathiTrust, seeing the print version gives you a much greater appreciation of the intricate engraved diagrams that accompany a number of the articles.


Works consulted:

1Laeven, A. H. 1990. The “Acta eruditorum” under the editorship of Otto Mencke (1644-1707): the history of an international learned journal between 1682 and 1707. Amsterdam: APA-Holland University Press. http://go.utlib.ca/cat/1931770

2Mayer, Uwe. “Kein Tummelplatz, Darauff Gelehrte Leut Kugeln Wechseln. Principles and Practice of Mencke’s Editorship of the Acta Eruditorum in the Light of Mathematical Controversies.” Archives Internationales d’Histoire Des Sciences 63, no. 170–171 (June 1, 2013): 49–59. https://doi.org/10.1484/J.ARIHS.5.103834.

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