The Academia Naturae Curiosorum was founded in the Free Imperial City of Schweinfurt on 1 January 1652. It is one of three major scientific societies founded at roughly the same time which have continued in existence until the present day, the other two being the Royal Society (London) and the Academy of Sciences (Paris), but it has the honour of being the oldest of the three. The Academia Naturae Curiosorum was founded by three physicians, the most prominent of whom was Johann Laurentius Bausch, and the Academy aimed to provide a forum which would both lead to a greater understanding of natural science and also provide for improved communication between physicians. The statutes of 1662 give the Academy's purpose in the following terms:-
The glory of God, the enlightenment of the art of healing and the benefit resulting from this for our fellow men be the goal and the only guide of the Academy of Natural Scientists.
Bausch was elected as the first President of the Academy. The Academy began to publish a journal, Ephemeriden, in 1670, which they dedicated to the Holy Roman emperor Leopold I. The dedication was made in the knowledge that Leopold was a renowned patron of the arts and sciences. In 1677 Leopold awarded the Academy the title 'Sacri Romani Imperii Academia Naturae Curiosorum'. The reputation of the Academy continued to grow and in 1687 Leopold gave it numerous privileges as wll as yet a further new title 'Sacri Romani Imperii Academia Caesareo- Leopoldina Naturae Curiosorum'. The privileges included recognising it as an Imperial Academy, authorising it to award academic degrees and to publish research results without censorship.
Although the German Academy of Scientists Leopoldina was founded in Schweinfurt it did not have a permanent base for a long period. Rather the Academy base went to the city or university in which the current President was based. As a consequence the following is the resulting sequence cities in which it was based: Schweinfurt, Nuremberg, Augsburg, Altdorf, Erfurt, Halle, Nuremberg, Erlangen, Bonn, Breslau, Jena, Dresden, and Halle. After this return to Halle in 1878 (the first period in Halle had been 1745-1769), this city became its permanent home. The Academy library was built in Halle in 1904.
Perhaps the period surrounding World War II was the most difficult in the Academy's history. The Academy had been a corresponding one throughout its history until 1924 when its then President Johannes Walther introduced monthly meetings. The next President Emil Abderhalden reorganised the Sections of the Academy in 1932 and introduced the series Lebensdarstel-lungen deutscher Naturforscher (Biographies of German Natural Scientists). He fought against the interference by the National Socialists in the affairs of the Academy and, although it was impossible to protect Jewish Academy members completely from the Nazi policies, the Academy gained in reputation by its attempts.
After World War II the problems of the Academy became no less severe. At the end of the war Germany was divided into into four zones of Allied military occupation. The Academy was situated in the Soviet Occupation Zone while its President, Emil Abderhalden, had been evacuated by the Americans as they left Halle. In 1949 the Soviet Occupation Zone became the GDR while the other three Occupation Zones were merged to form West Germany. The GDR now tried to make the Academy a state institution and the Academy defended itself claiming that it was all-German organisation, something which had in fact been officially recognised. One way of retaining its all-German nature was organising its annual conference alternately in Halle and in Schweinfurt. This, however, failed after the construction of the Wall in 1961. Its greatest success was that it succeeded in continuing to elect its members without any state influence, either from the Federal Republic of Germany or Western countries which all would have wished exert political influence.
On 3 October 1990 a unification treaty which had been ratified by the Bundestag and the People's Chamber in the previous month, came into effect and a single Germany existed again. In December of 1990 elections were held within the new united country. A resolution of 5 April 1991 registered the Academy and its statutes (which have been modified in minor ways in the succeeding years) established that:-
The Academy is named 'German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina'. It is seated in Halle an der Saale, where it has been registered in the Local Court's list of associations. Founded in Schweinfurt in 1652, and vested with privileges by Emperor Leopold I in 1687 that were confirmed by Emperor Karl VII in 1742, the Academy is identical with and constitutes the uninterrupted continuation of its predecessor, the 'Imperial Leopoldina Carolina German Academy of Natural Scientists'.
The German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina ... is a mainly natural science and medicine scholars' society that is based in its home countries of Germany, Austria and Switzerland and is represented at supranational level by members outside this area.
Its mission is that of promoting science in national and international co-operation, traditionally for the benefit of humankind and nature, among other things by academic events and commissions, publishing results obtained, maintaining a scientific archive and a scientific library, and by awarding honours and prizes, aimed among other things at promoting junior scientists.
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