From the history of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Aleksandr Dmitriev. Institute for the History of Science and Technology in 1932–1936

The article documents the early period in the existence of the first Russian institution dedicated to the history of science and technology, from its establishment in Leningrad in February of 1932 on the basis of the Commission on the History of Knowledge (founded primarily on the initiative of Vladimir Vernadsky in the early 1920s) up to the radical reorganization and eventual relocation to Moscow in 1936. Various published and archival sources are used to reconstruct the structure and establish the personnel of the institute during that period, as well as to elucidate the range of its work and its significance. A special attention is given to the institute’s first director, Nikolai Bukharin, and scientific secretary, M. A. Gukovskii, both of whom were instrumental in building a well-coordinated team of experienced researchers from the very start of the institute’s existence.

In the early 1930s, when most research and educational institutions of the Soviet Union in the field of humanities were subjected to a series of purges and reorganizations, a number of outstanding historians (such as S. Ia. Lur’ie, O. A. Dobiash-Rozhdestvenskaia, E. Ch. Skrzhinskaia, and others) sought refuge in the history of science and technology and considered the relatively liberal atmosphere of the new institute as a safe haven. The nine volumes of the “Archive of the History of Science and Technology,” published by the institute during that period, along with numerous monographs and translations of Western literature, made it a world’s leading player in the field.

This period of enthusiastic and fruitful work was brought to a sharp halt in May of 1936, when a group of Moscow-based historians of technology, affiliated with the Communist Academy and the Committee on the Higher Technical Education, succeeded in initiating the governmental decision to move the institute to Moscow, followed by dramatic changes in its personnel and the very character of work. The documents enclosed in the appendixes to the article attest to both the promising start of the institute and its decline by the mid-1936.


From the history of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Iurii Krivonosov. Institute for the History of Science and Technology: the tragedy of 1936–1938

Based on the hitherto unstudied archival documents, the article analyzes the tragic events in the existence of the Institute for the History of Science and Technology following its relocation to Moscow in 1936. Despite the efforts of the institute’s first director, Nikolai Bukharin, to keep its structure and protect the personnel from the ever-increasing political pressures (revealed in his 1936–1937 correspondence with vice-president of the Academy of Sciences, G. M. Krzhizhanovskii, and its permanent secretary, N. P. Gorbunov, appended to the article), the persecution ran through its ranks, sparing neither Bukharin himself, not his deputy, academician A. M. Deborin. After academician V. V. Osinskii (who had suceeded Bukharin as the institute’s director) was arrested and executed in 1937, the institute was left in shambles. Although a number of famous scientists (most notably, Vladimir Vernadsky) made energetic attempts to find a new director, no one wanted to assume such a threatening position, and in March of 1938 the Presidium of the Soviet Academy of Sciences resolved to liquidate the institute altogether.

From the History of Science

Gennadii Kurtik. On the origin of the Greek Zodiacal constellation names

While it is well known that the Mesopotamian tradition played a definitive role in the development of the Greek Zodiac, the question about the origin of the Greek Zodiacal constellation names is still an unresolved issue in the history of ancient astronomy. This article addresses this problem by discussing the early Greek written sources on, and images of, the Zodiacal constellations and the signs of the Zodiac; the names of the constellations distinguished in the Zodiacal belt and the related system of the 12 Zodiacal constellations and signs, used in cuneiform writing; and the Mesopotamian images of the Zodiacal constellations. It is shown that the Greek names of the Zodiacal constellations could not be derived from direct translation of their Mesopotamian names, but were most likely closely related to the symbolic images of the Zodiacal constellations adopted in the Mesopotamian astronomy and astrology.


From the History of Technology

Günter Sollinger. Matthias Andre Björkstadius: the first Swedish aviator?

On the basis of various sources it is possible to conclude with some degree of certainty that the Swedish priest and mathematics teacher Matthias Andre Björkstadius (1604–1651) actually carried out flying attempts sometime during the 1630s, most likely in Vösterlås. What kind of equipment Björkstadius used to fly is not known. Neither do we have any information about those intellectual sources, written or other, which might have stimulated his interest in the subject of flight. It is likely that he was influenced by a number of scientists from the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly by some mathematicians who also dealt with aeronomics.

Apparently, Björkstadius had a far-reaching ability to formulate abstract problems. He had a profound knowledge of mathematics and was keenly interested in technical issues. According to his general viewpoint, knowledge had to be put to test in order to prove its value. His technical skills fitted well with this philosophy. And Björkstadius did not lack either the tools or material necessary to construct his flying apparatus.

The Social History of Russian Science and Technology

Garri Abelev. Dramatic pages in the history of the Section on the Virology and Immunology of Tumors

The article documents the liquidation of the Section on the Virology and Immunology of Tumors as a division of the N. F. Gamaleia Institute of Epidemiology and Microbilogy, and its eventual reestablishment under the aegis of the Oncology Research Center.