Institute and Museum of the History of Science, Florence, ITALY

Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence

Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University

European University Institute



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Michael John Gorman


Nick Wilding

About the Project

Download Luna Insight from Stanford University to acccess new version of Kircher's correspondenceNEW!

Download a checklist of Kircher's correspondence outside the Pontifical Gregorian University (MS-Word)NEW!



Old version of Kircher correspondence (soon to be removed)

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Who was Athanasius Kircher? 

Kircher's correspondence 

Present state of the correspondence

Publishing Kircher's correspondence on the Internet

User feedback 

Further reading Participating Institutions

Other sites related to Athanasius Kircher


The Athanasius Kircher correspondence project was created with the goal of making the manuscript correspondence of Athanasius Kircher available on the Internet. The project was commenced through the collaboration of the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza in Florence, the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and the European University Institute in Fiesole, under the direction of Michael John Gorman and Nick Wilding. Since September 2000, the project has been rehoused at Stanford University. A new searchable version of the correspondence, using Luna Insight software has been developed at Stanford, and is now available to researchers. Comments on the new interface are very welcome.

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Who was Athanasius Kircher?

During his lifetime, the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) was widely regarded as the physical embodiment of all the learning of his age. A refugee from war-torn Germany, Kircher arrived in Rome just after Galileo's condemnation, where he was heralded as possessing the secret of deciphering hieroglyphics. He wrote over thirty separate works dealing with subjects ranging from optics to music, from Egyptology to magnetism. He invented a universal language scheme, attacked the possibility of alchemical transmutation and devised a host of remarkable pneumatic, hydraulic, catoptric and magnetic machines, which he displayed to visitors to his famous museum, housed in the Jesuit Collegio Romano. His books, lavishly illustrated volumes destined for Baroque princes with a love of the curious and exotic, are permeated with a strong element of the Hermetic philosophy of the Renaissance, synthesised with the Christianised Aristotelianism of the Jesuit order to which Kircher belonged.

Further reading on Athanasius Kircher

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Kircher's Correspondence

Kircher had over 760 correspondents, including scientists, physicians, Jesuit missionaries, two Holy Roman Emperors, popes, and potentates throughout the globe. The subjects discussed in his voluminous correspondence cover the entire range of his interests. Letters sent to Kircher were commonly accompanied by curious natural objects or artefacts for Kircher's expanding collection in Rome and reports of astronomical observations or experiments performed by the global network of Jesuit missionaries. In return, Kircher sent his powerful patrons medicines and balsams produced in the pharmacy of the Jesuit college in Rome, and elaborate machines of his devising such as the Mathematical Organ, an example of which is now preserved in the Museum of History of Science in Florence. In the three centuries since Kircher's death his immense correspondence has remained unpublished. The correspondence constitutes a hugely important resource for the study of early modern Europe, and its interest goes far beyond the study of Kircher's own career. As well as providing an untold wealth of information concerning, for example, the appropriation of knowledge of the New World in Europe, the complex cultural exchanges involved in Jesuit missionary activities, particularly in China and the New World, and the shifting allegiances formed between the Jesuit order and the European dynastic powers, the publication of this correspondence might hope to open up whole new avenues of research into seventeenth century European culture. The correspondence is of particular interest for the history of early modern science and technique. As well as engaging in correspondence with the most eminent scientists of his time, including Leibniz, Torricelli and Gassendi. Kircher harnessed the network of Jesuit missionaries to carry out natural observations and experiments on a global scale.

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Present State of the Correspondence

The bulk of Kircher's correspondence is currently preserved in the Archives of the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, in fourteen folio volumes (APUG 555 - APUG 568) containing a total of 2291 letters, and a number of miscellaneous papers. Of these letters, all but 148 are letters written to Kircher from 763 correspondents located all over the world. Of the 2,143 letters sent to Kircher present in the Pontifical Gregorian University, 1349 (or 63%) are in Latin. 622 (29%) are in Italian, with the remaining 8 % being divided between Spanish (64 letters = 3%), French (52 letters = 2.5%), German (33 letters = 1.5 %) and other languages (Dutch, Persian, Armenian, Arabic, Chinese, Coptic etc.) only making up the final 0.8% (23 letters). The remaining letters that Kircher sent to his correspondents are dispersed throughout an enormous number of libraries and archives world-wide. A preliminary list of these letters has already been made, but many more are likely to be found in the future through systematic searching enhanced, we hope, by user feedback

Further reading on Kircher's correspondence

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Publishing Kircher's correspondence on the Internet

Beginning with the letters in volumes APUG 555 to APUG 568 of the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University and continuing to include Kircher's letters and manuscripts in other libraries and archives, we plan to produce an edition of Kircher's correspondence that will be available for consultation free of charge on Internet. The first phase of this ongoing project is already complete. The letters present in the Gregorian have been scanned as high quality TIFF images, available on Internet in compressed JPEG form. The images are linked into a database containing details of each letter (name of sender, place, date, language, storage location, shelfmark, folio/page numbers, subjects, works by Kircher mentioned, and so on). The database is searchable in all fields, and images of the letters can be downloaded for individual scholarly use. It will also be open to continual enhancement and criticism on the part of both the editors and the users of the database. At this stage, the database constitutes an interactive digital archive, allowing scholars to consult the manuscript documents which it contains and to perform searches. We plan to enhance the resource to include biographical details of Kircher's correspondents. Transcriptions of the manuscript documents in the archive, beginning with the documents in Latin and Italian will be added gradually as they are produced.

Click on the thumbnail to view a sample JPEG image of a letter (size 111 KB)


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User feedback

One of the enormous advantages of publishing Kircher's correspondence on the Internet, rather than in conventional form, is the possibility of enhancing and enlarging the database continuously through user feedback. The vast range of disciplines and geographical regions covered by Kircher's correspondence network implies that an adequate understanding of the material contained in his correspondence requires the collaboration of a large number of scholars with a very broad range of disciplinary and geographical specializations. We hope that our on-line database will provide a space where specialists coming from widely different backgrounds and geographical areas can meet and contribute to our general understanding of the work of Kircher and his correspondents. 

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New documents

One of the most immediate and valuable ways in which scholars with experience of working in different archives and libraries can contribute to our knowledge of Kircher and his world is by indicating the existence of letters and other documents by Kircher outside the Pontifical Gregorian University. We are currently developing a structure to facilitate the submission of archival information to the editors, but for the moment any relevant information can simply be submitted to Michael John Gorman. Whilst we cannot offer any reward for information leading to the discovery of hitherto unknown Kircher manuscripts except the gratitude of the scholarly community, the source of any information submitted in this way will be fully acknowledged when the documents are incorporated into the database. A preliminary checklist of known Kircher manuscripts and letters outside the Pontifical Gregorian University is now available for downloading (MS-Word format).

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A Bibliographical Database

Another particularly important type of user-interaction that we hope to encourage amongst scholars consulting the database is the submission of bibliographical references to articles and monographs relating to Kircher, to be entered into a bibliographical database currently under construction which will also be available to scholars using the resource. Where articles discuss letters contained in the correspondence, or publish transcriptions or translations, we will include this information in the records of the relevant letters and other manuscripts in the database. This task will clearly be made much easier if scholars send us bibliographical details of their publications. It will be easier to incorporate this information into the database rapidly if scholars submitting bibliographical references also indicate which letters are discussed or published in their studies. Again, for the present, relevant bibliographical information can simply be submitted to Michael John Gorman. Apart from providing a modest amount of publicity for such scholarly publications, this bibliography, when linked to the correspondence database, will also allow scholars working in closely related areas to become acquainted with each other's work, and, if desired, to make contact.

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A final, but crucial category of user feedback that we would like to encourage is criticism. No project of this size can hope to succeed without generating a certain number of errors, whether typographical or factual. Unlike conventional publication, the Internet allows errors to be pointed out and corrected very easily, and this is a feature which we would like to use to our advantage. A structure to allow remote users to submit corrections to the information concerning a particular letter in the database to the editors has now been integrated into the database.

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Further reading

The following is merely intended as a small, introductory selection of scholarly studies relating to Kircher and his correspondence. More detailed bibliographies can be found in the general works cited.

New publications on Kircher

The year 2000-2001 has seen a remarkable number of important exhibitions on Kircher, leading to the publication of several exhibition catalogues containing the results of new research on Kircher and his musem.

  • Caterina Marrone , I geroglifici fantastici di Athanasius Kircher, Viterbo: Stampa Alternativa & Graffiti, 2002
  • Eugenio Lo Sardo, ed., Athanasius Kircher : il museo del mondo, Roma: De Luca, 2001 (catalogue of the exhibition on Kircher's museum held at the Palazzo Venezia, Rome, 28 febbraio-22 aprile 2001).
  • Ingrid Rowland, The ecstatic journey : Athanasius Kircher in Baroque Rome, Chicago: University of Chicago Library, 2000 (catalogue of the exhibition on Kircher held at the Department of Special Collections, University of Chicago Libraries, 2000).
  • Daniel Stolzenberg, ed., The great art of knowing : the baroque encyclopedia of Athanasius Kircher, Stanford, California: Stanford University Libraries, 2001 (catalogue of the exhibition on Kircher held at the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, April to July 2001)
The curator of the Rome exhibition, Eugenio Lo Sardo, has also published a separate volume on Kircher including Italian translations of excerpts from some of Kircher's works:

Iconismi & Mirabilia da Athanasius Kircher, per cura e con un saggio di Eugenio Lo Sardo, Roma: Edizioni dell'Elefante, 1999.

General works

John Fletcher (ed.), Athanasius Kircher und seine Beziehungen zum gelehrten Europa seiner Zeit, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz; 1988. A preliminary list of Kircher's manuscripts and letters made by John Fletcher may be found on pp. 152-181.

Joscelyn Godwin, Athanasius Kircher: A Renaissance man and the quest for lost knowledge, London: Thames and Hudson; 1979.

Ignacio Gomez de Liano, Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), Itinerario del extasis, o Las imagenes de un saber universal, Madrid: Ediciones Siruela; 1986. 

Thomas Leinkauf, Mundus combinatus. Studien zur Struktur der barocken Universalwissenschaft am Beispiel Athanasius Kirchers SJ (1602-1680), Berlin: Akademie Verlag; 1993.

Conor Reilly, Athanasius Kircher: a master of a hundred arts, 1602-1680, Studia Kircheriana, Wiesbaden: Edizioni del Mondo; 1974. 

Valerio Rivosecchi, Esotismo in Roma Barocca: Studi sul Padre Kircher, Rome: Bulzoni; 1982.

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Studies of Kircher's Correspondence

Kircher's correspondence has been the subject of a large number of articles by John Fletcher. For a selection, see especially 

John Fletcher, Athanasius Kircher and his correspondence, in J. Fletcher (ed.), Athanasius Kircher und seine Beziehungen, cit.,pp. 139-195.

_________, A brief Survey of the unpublished Correspondence of Athanasius Kircher, S.J. (1602-1680). Manuscripta. 1969; 13(3): 150-160.

Other relevant articles by Fletcher on more specific aspects of the correspondence include

_________, Astronomy in the life and Correspondence of Athanasius Kircher. Isis. 1970; 61: 52-67.

_________, Johann Marcus Marci writes to Athanasius Kircher. Janus. 1972; 59: 95-118.

_________, Athanasius Kircher and Duke August of Brunswick-Lüneburg. A chronicle of friendship, in Fletcher (ed.), Athanasius Kircher und seine Beziehungen, cit.,pp. 99-138.

On Kircher's close epistolary relationship with Fabio Chigi, later Pope Alexander VII see

Alberto Bartòla, Alessandro VII e Athanasius Kircher S.I. Ricerche e appunti sulla loro corrispondenza erudita e sulla storia di alcuni codici chigiani. Miscellanea Bibliothecae Apostolicae Vaticanae. 1989; III: 7-105.

On the importance of Kircher's correspondence as a source for the history of Jesuit missionary activities, see

J. Wicki, Die Miscellanea Epistolarum des P. Athanasius Kircher S.J. in missionarischer Sicht., Euntes Docete, 1968; XXI: 221-254.

On Kircher's correspondents in Mexico, see

Ignacio Osorio Romero, La Luz Imaginaria: Epistolario de Atanasio Kircher con los novohispanos, Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; 1993.

On Kircherís epistolary relationship with the Jesuit astronomer Giambattista Riccioli see

Ivana Gambaro, Astronomia e Tecniche di Ricerca nelle lettere di G.B. Riccioli ad A. Kircher, Genova: Quaderni del Centro di studio sulla storia della tecnica del Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche 15; 1989.

On Kircher's relationship with his disciple Kaspar Schott, see

Kaspar Schott: La technica curiosa; saggio introduttivo di Michael John Gorman e Nick Wilding; con uno studio linguistico e traduzioni annotate dal latino a cura di Maurizio Sonnino; prefazione di Paolo Galluzzi.: Roma : Edizioni dell'Elefante, 2000.

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Kircher's Museum

On Kircher's museum in the Collegio Romano, see especially:

M. Casciato, M. Ianniello and M. Vitale, (eds.), Enciclopedismo in Roma barocca: Athanasius Kircher e il museo del Collegio Romano tra Wunderkammer e museo scientifico, Venice: Marsilio; 1986

Paula Findlen, Scientific Spectacle in Baroque Rome: Athanasius Kircher and the Roman College Museum. Roma Moderna e Contemporanea. 1995; 3: 625-665.

___________, Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific culture in Early Modern Italy, Berkeley: University of California Press; 1994.

Aldagisa Lugli, Inquiry as collection: The Athanasius Kircher Museum in Rome. RES. 1986; 12: 109-124.

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Kircher's instruments and machines

Apart from the works dealing with Kircher's instruments in the context of his Museum, studies include

Thomas L. Hankins and Robert J. Silverman, Instruments and the imagination, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press; 1995, Chapters 2 and 3

On Kircher's mathematical organ, see: 

Mara Miniati, Les "cistae mathematicae" et l'organisation des connaissances au XVIIe siècle, in Cristine Blondel et al. (eds.), Studies in the History of Scientific Instruments, London: Roger Turner Books; 1989, pp. 43-51.

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Kircher's cultural context

A study which places the work of Kircher and his disciples in the context of the cultural and political interests of the Habsburg monarchy is

R. J. W. Evans, The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy: An Interpretation, Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1979, Chapters 9-12

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Specific studies

Apart from the studies included in the collective works listed above, the following is a very small selection of studies with relevance to particular areas of Kircher's activity: 

Martha Baldwin, The Snakestone Experiments: An Early Modern Medical Debate. Isis. 1995; 86 (3): . 394-418 (on Kircher's polemic with Francesco Redi about the efficacy of magnetic medicine).

Carlos Ziller Camenietzki, L'Extase interplanetaire d'Athanasius Kircher: philosophie, cosmologie et discipline dans la Compagnie de Jésus au XVIIe siècle. Nuncius. 1995; X (1): 3-32 (on Kircher's Itinerarium Exstaticum, 1656)

Catherine Chevalley, L'Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae d'Athanase Kircher. Néoplatonisme, hermétisme et "nouvelle philosophie". Baroque. 1987; 12: 95-109 (on Kircher's optical encyclopedia, the Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, 1646).

George E. McCracken, Athanasius Kircher's universal polygraphy. Isis. 1948; 39: 215-228 (on Kircher's universal language, described in his 1663 Polygraphia nova).

Luca Nocenti, Vedere Mirabilia: Kircher, Redi, Anatre Settentrionali, Rarità Orientali e Mosche nel Miele. Rivista di estetica, 2002; XLII: 26-60 NEW!

Dino Pastine, Lanascita dell'idolatria: l'Oriente religioso di Athanasius Kircher, Firenze: La Nuova Italia; 1978 (on Kircher's religious syncretism and sinology).

Ulf Scharlau, Athanasius Kircher, 1601-1680, als Musikschriftsteller. Ein Beitrag zur Musikanschauung des Barock, Marburg: Studien zur hessischen Musikgeschichte; 1969 (on Kircher as a music theorist and composer).

Gerhard F. Strasser, Science and Pseudoscience: Athanasius Kircher's Mundus Subterraneus and his Scrutinum ... Pestis, in G. Scholz Williams and Stephan K. Schindler (eds.), Knowledge, Science, and Literature in Early Modern Germany, Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press; 1996: pp.219-240.

Boleslaw Szczesniak, Athanasius Kircher's "China Illustrata". Osiris. 1952; 10: 385-411.

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Participating Institutions

The early phase of the project was carried out through the collaboration of the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence, the European University Institute in Fiesole and the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, with the aid of a grant from the Italian Ministero dell'Università e della Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica. Since September 2000, the project has been developed through the generous support of Stanford University Libraries.

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Sites related to Kircher

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This page is maintained by Michael John Gorman. Last updated: 6 February 2003