Seminary “Sciences and humanities in the service of politics in Enlightenment Europe” – 8th October, 2021

21.02.2021 | 17.04.2022

Sciences and humanities in the service of politics in Enlightenment Europe

an on-line seminar of the Institute for the History of Science

and Institute of Literary Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw

marking the bicentenary of the death of Stanisław Kostka Potocki

8th October, 2021

Stanisław Kostka Potocki (1755–1821) belonged to the luminaries of the Polish Enlightenment. As a scholar, he was a polymath who attained eminence and recognition in the fields of literary studies, archaeology and art history. In Poland, he is even known as the ‘father’ of the latter two disciplines due to his groundbreaking treatise Winkelman polski (literally, the Polish Winckelmann) from 1815. Also, he was interested in architectural theory, although his treatise on that subject was never finished. What is more, the Warsaw Society of the Friends of Sciences (the first Polish learned society, established in 1800) owed much to his support and intellectual engagement in the initial years of its existence. However, Potocki also achieved a lot as a politician and dignitary, serving not only as a long-standing member of parliament, but also minister and prime minister. Arguably, his greatest contribution to the Polish political history was the comprehensive reform of educational system which he headed in the Duchy of Warsaw (1807–15) and Kingdom of Poland (1815–20). It was this field in which he was able to combine his academic interests with great political ambitions.

The case of Potocki is emblematic of a more widespread Enlightenment phenomenon of intellectuals who doubled as politicians or high-ranking civil servants (or otherwise, dignitaries who established themselves also as writers, inventors etc.). However, such personal connections were not the sole area of direct interaction between high politics and research in that period. Sciences and humanities could serve the agendas of rules, ministers and other officials, being used to assist or promote Enlightenment political reforms in practically every field. They were the source of basic knowledge, inspiration or legitimacy. Note that the contemporary proliferation of learned societies and other academic institutions also can be attributed to their potential political usefulness, given official state patronages which they ordinarily enjoyed.

It seems that the marriage of research and politics has been so far best explored with regard to personal examples of researchers-politicians (such as Benjamin Franklin, Pierre Simon Laplace, Nikolay Rumyantsev, Wilhelm von Humboldt or Stanisław Staszic). However, the phenomenon of the political exploitation of research in the Enlightenment requires comprehensive studies, including different disciplines and geographical areas. Our seminar is intended to give an opportunity to consider this subject from different historical angles. The specific case of Stanisław Kostka Potocki, to whom the seminar is dedicated, can be seen as a point of departure for our discussion, which may include (but is not limited to them) the following themes:

  • the participation of scientists in political life (including the impact of academic achievements on political career), and politicians in academic life,
  • state policies in the field of scientific and humanistic research,
  • the significance of sciences and humanities in political discourses,
  • the political engagement of research institutions,
  • the use of scientific and humanistic research in political propaganda or policy-making.

Seminar languages: Polish and English.

Paper proposals’ deadline: 18.04.2021 (e-mail address:

Proposals should include: paper’s title, abstract max. 400 words, short CV.

Contact: Mikolaj Getka-Kenig, PhD, Institute for the History of Science, Polish Academy of Sciences,

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