Maximilian Hell (1720–92) and the Ends of Jesuit Science in Enlightenment Europe


The Viennese Jesuit court astronomer Maximilian Hell was a nodal figure in the eighteenth-century circulation of knowledge. He was already famous by the time of his celebrated 1769 expedition for the observation of the transit of Venus in northern Scandinavia. However, the 1773 suppression of his order forced Hell to develop ingenious strategies of accommodation to changing international and domestic circumstances. Through a study of his career in local, regional, imperial, and global contexts, this book sheds new light on the complex relationship between the Enlightenment, Catholicism, administrative and academic reform in the Habsburg monarchy, and the practices and ends of cultivating science in the Republic of Letters around the end of the first era of the Society of Jesus.

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Biographical Note
Per Pippin Aspaas, PhD, with a thesis on Maximilian Hell (2012), is senior academic librarian at UiT The Arctic University of Norway (Tromsø). With a background in classical philology as well as the history of science, he has published on various branches of early modern science and the uses of neo-Latin.

László Kontler, PhD (1996), is professor of history at Central European University (Budapest/Vienna). He has published on intellectual history, the history of political thought, translation and reception, and scientific knowledge production, including Translations, Histories, Enlightenments: William Robertson in Germany, 1760–1795 (Palgrave, 2014).
Table of contents
Bibliographic Abbreviations
Catholic Enlightenment—Enlightenment Catholicism
The Society of Jesus and Jesuit Science
What’s in a Life?

1. Shafts and Stars, Crafts and Sciences: The Making of a Jesuit Astronomer in the Habsburg Provinces
A Regional Life World
Turbulent Times and an Immigrant Family around the Mines
Professor on the Frontier

2. Metropolitan Lures: Enlightened and Jesuit Networks, and a New Node of Science
An Agenda for Astronomic Advance
Science in the City and in the World: Hell and the Respublica astronomica

3. A New Node of Science in Action: The 1761 Transit of Venus and Hell’s Transition to Fame
A Golden Opportunity
An Imperial Astronomer’s Network Displayed
Lessons Learned
“Quonam autem fructu?” Taking Stock

4. The North Beckons: “A desperate voyage by desperate persons”
Scandinavian Self-assertions
The Invitation from Copenhagen: Providence and Rhetoric
From Vienna to Vardø

5. He Came, He Saw, He Conquered? The Expeditio litteraria ad Polum Arcticum
A Journey Finished and Yet Unfinished
Enigmas of the Northern Sky and Earth
On Hungarians and Laplanders
Authority Crumbling

6. “Tahiti and Vardø will be the two columns […]”: Observing Venus and Debating the Parallax
Mission Accomplished
Accomplishment Contested
A Peculiar Nachleben

7. Disruption of Old Structures
Habsburg Centralization and the De-centering of Hell
Critical Publics: Vienna, Hungary
Ex-Jesuit Astronomy: Institutions and Trajectories

8. Coping with Enlightenments
Viennese Struggles
Redefining the Center

Conclusion: Borders and Crossings
Appendix 1: Map of the Austrian Province of the Society of Jesus, with Glossary of Geographic Names
Appendix 2: Instruction for the Imperial and Royal Astronomer Maximilian Hell, S.J.
Anyone interested in eighteenth-century Central Europe and Scandinavia, in the production and circulation of knowledge in the Enlightenment, in enlightened absolutism, in Catholicism and the Society of Jesus in the eighteenth century, in historians of astronomy and related subjects, and historians of comparative linguistics and its ideological implications.
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