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Different functions of learning and knowledge—Geology takes form: Museums in the Habsburg Empire, 1815–1848

Marianne Klemun
Marianne Klemun
Department of History, University of Vienna, Universitätsring 1, 1010 Vienna, Austria
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Publication history
21 November 201725 May 2018


Few institutions are as multifaceted and successful as museums. The three main objectives of the museum—collecting, researching, and teaching—always existed next to each other, but they were not necessarily equally weighted. They changed in the course of the history of the museum depending on location and concept. How different was the character of these institutions at the beginning of their existence, when many of them were newly established in the Habsburg Empire. In contrast to modern museums, which focus apart from preservation on exhibitions for a broader public, the concept of the museum of the Vormärz period (1815–1848) was based on different forms of teaching. In 1811, Archduke Johann founded the Joanneum, a universal museum (a museum that included objects from nature and culture as well as crafts) in the province of Styria as a state museum (Landesmuseum) for the region, which became the model for other institutions in the Habsburg provinces. It has been largely overlooked that this outstanding early museum, first and foremost, provided regular instructional lectures in botany and mineralogy and, in so doing, made natural history and earth sciences known to interested people. At a time when mineralogy was not taught at secondary schools and was rarely part of the university curriculum, scholars such as Friedrich Mohs, Matthias Anker, and Karl Haidinger filled this gap and gave lectures in these subjects at museums. This contribution examines the shift from mineralogy as a science of specimens to geognosy (geology) as a science of stratigraphy during the Vormärz period, and I will argue that museums played a pivotal role in this transition process.

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GSA Special Papers

Museums at the Forefront of the History and Philosophy of Geology: History Made, History in the Making

Geological Society of America
ISBN electronic:




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