"A Place for Human Inquiry": Lomonosov’s Mineral Science

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Abstract Summary
While polymath and first Russian member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences Mikhail Lomonosov’s research interests were famously broad, he began and ended his career as a mineral scientist. After initial study and work in mining science and mineralogy, he dropped the subject, returning to it only 15 years later with a radically new approach. This paper asks why Lomonosov went back to the subject and why his approach to the mineral realm changed. It argues that he returned to the subject in answer to the needs of the Russian court for native mining experts, but also, and more significantly, because from 1757 to his death in 1765 Lomonosov found in mineral science an opportunity to engage in some of the major debates of the Enlightenment. Through his late mineralogical writings, Lomonosov debated the role of religion in scientific inquiry, outlined a vision of science in service to the state, and defended the philosophical tradition of Gottfried Leibniz and Christian Wolff against the attacks of French philosophes in the wake of the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. This paper concludes by situating Lomonosov in a ‘mining Enlightenment’ that engrossed major thinkers, bureaucrats, and mining practitioners in Central and Northern Europe as well as Russia.
Abstract ID :
Submission Type
Organized Session
Abstract Topic
Aspects of Scientific Practice/Organization
Chronological Classification :
18th century