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


The Viennese Jesuit court astronomer Maximilian Hell was a key 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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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).
“This book is a careful and valuable source for historians of science interested in ways in which the Enlightenment affected the practice of science in the more remote lands of the Habsburg empire.”
J. L. Heilbron, University of California–Berkeley. In: Church History, Vol. 89, No. 4 (December 2020), pp. 953–955.

Maximilian Hell (1720–92) and the Ends of Jesuit Science in Enlightenment Europe is a valuable contribution that provides an impressive account of the neglected aspects of the East Central European Enlightenment.”
Tibor Bodnár-Király, Eötvös Loránd University. In: Austrian History Yearbook, Vol. 52 (2021), pp. 15–16.

“This monograph is essential for any study of the history of European astronomy and of Jesuit science.”
Agustín Udías, Universidad Complutense. In: Journal of Jesuit Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1 (December 2020), pp. 111–113.

“Hell’s vitriolic responses to public criticism, the familiar stereotype of the dissembling Jesuit, and the implosion and suppression of the Order in 1773 [...] undermined his reputation. While not formulated as a rehabilitation, Maximilian Hell (1720–92) and the Ends of Jesuit Science in Enlightenment Europe undoes much of that damage, showing the attractive aspects of this figure — as, for instance, his collaboration with the gifted painter Caspar Franz Sambach — and the considerable constraints under which Hell worked. Of particular value is the sustained and enlightening comparison of the Jesuits and their curious double, the Freemasons.”
Eileen Reeves, Princeton. In: Isis, Vol. 12, No. 3 (September 2021), pp. 607–609.

List of Illustrations
Bibliographic Abbreviations
 1 Enlightenment(s)
 2 Catholic Enlightenment—Enlightenment Catholicism
 3 The Society of Jesus and Jesuit Science
 4 What’s in a Life?

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

2 Metropolitan Lures: Enlightened and Jesuit Networks, and a New Node of Science
 1 An Agenda for Astronomic Advance
 2 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
 1 A Golden Opportunity
 2 An Imperial Astronomer’s Network Displayed
 3 Lessons Learned
 4 “Quonam autem fructu?” Taking Stock

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

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

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

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

8 Coping with Enlightenments
 1 Viennese Struggles
 2 Redefining the Center

Conclusion: Borders and Crossings

Appendix 1Map of the Austrian Province of the Society of Jesus, with Glossary of Geographic Names
Appendix 2Instruction 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 the history of astronomy and related subjects, and the history of comparative linguistics and its ideological implications.
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