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2002 articles 1988 articles

Sir Hans Sloane and the Russian Academy of Sciences

Christine G. Thomas

Abstract

THE year that Sir Hans Sloane became president of the Royal Society marked the beginning of formal Anglo-Russian scientific relations. His predecessor Newton, at his last meeting as president before his death in March 1727, read out a letter received from the newly-founded Russian Academy of Sciences, proposing scientific co-operation between the two institutions.' In the past, the flow of scientific information had been in one direction only. The Russians, especially since the beginning of Peter the Great's programme for modernizing his Empire, had been eager to gain scientific and technical information and expertise from the West. After the founding in 1725 of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which provided a centre for the serious scientific study of a country endowed with a wealth of unexplored material in the fields of natural history, geography, mineralogy, and ethnography, the interest ofWestern scientists was aroused, and exchange of information became reciprocal. In the early years at least, this exchange was effected mainly through correspondence between individual scholars rather than through any official exchange of publications. All the founding members of the Academy were foreigners, mostly Germans, and they kept in touch with colleagues they had known before going to Russia. The Sloane Manuscripts contain letters to Sir Hans Sloane from six members of the Russian academy written between 1721 and 1742, and of these correspondents, four had known or at least met him in England.

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