Programme Line: History of Mentalities – Key concept: Perception of Nature
(William Barton, Martin Korenjak, Johanna Luggin, Anna Novokhatko)

Mentalities can be defined as basic attitudes towards fundamental aspects of human existence such as time, the body or death. These attitudes are usually experienced as the natural and even the only possible way of seeing things by the people who hold them. In reality, however, they are highly culturally determined and can change radically over time. 

The Early Modern age was, indeed, an age of such dramatic mentality changes: The European mind-set was, broadly speaking, transformed from medieval to modern. One important strand within this complex process concerned the idea of nature: While in earlier times nature tended to be seen as something potentially dangerous and hostile, to be either domesticated or avoided, modernity experiences it as a necessary complement to human culture and as a source of joy and satisfaction. Neo-Latin literature played an essential role in the transition between these mentalities. This role is, however, largely neglected in previous research on the topic, which results in a distorted picture of the whole process; among other things, changes whose roots actually lie in the time around 1500 are often post-dated to the 18th century.

Within the topic just sketched, the mentalities line undertakes two projects, to be carried out in the years 2011–2014 and 2015–2017 respectively: The first one, already well underway, is entitled “The Discovery of Mountains”, while the second is concerned with “The Invention of Landscape”.

The history of mountain perception is usually constructed as a fairly linear evolution from “mountain gloom” to “mountain glory” – to cite a classic in the field – and the turning point is usually positioned in the 18th century. Our focus on Neo-Latin, instead of vernacular, texts not only allowed us to push this date back by some 250 years, but also showed that the whole process is in fact less linear and much more complex than has been suspected until then. The sources of a new interest in, and finally a new appreciation of mountains include a diverse range of ideas, discourses and practices: from ethnological theory to royal self-representation, from patriotism to theology (and even demonology), from dietetics to the rise of the Sublime, from the flowering of the sciences such as botanics, geology, vulcanology and glaciology to the beginnings of tourism. In addition, these strands also transect and interact in many different ways, resulting in an even more variegated picture. Our project gave special prominence to the issues of aesthetics and tourism, which were treated in book-length studies by William Barton and Johanna Luggin respectively. A broad range of other aspects has been covered in talks and articles.

Now, from 2015–2017, we are widening our focus from one specific landscape, mountains, to landscape in general. Taking Neo-Latin sources into account, the invention of landscape can be predated in a similar way to the discovery of mountains. Four aspects receive special attention: the Latin prehistory of the concept of landscape, the invention of ‘national landscapes’ (that is, landscapes seen as typical for certain political entities), early forms of landscape tourism and landscape as an object of contemplation.

For various small projects of the Mentalities line, see


Neo-Latin and Science

(LBI: William Barton, Martin Korenjak, Johanna Luggin /
University of Innsbruck: Akokopyan Ovanes, Dominik Berrens, Irina Tautschnig)

In the second period of the institute (2018–2024), the research line will turn its attention to the role of Latin in the development of Early Modern science. While the Early Modern history of science has experienced a growing boom in the last decades, the texts on which the so-called ‘scientific revolution’ was based have received scant attention at best. It is often supposed that the success of modern science was the inevitable consequence of its impressive experimental and technical results. However, these results were by no means so expressive from the beginning; in many disciplines, they were lacking altogether. Inventions like the steam engine or vaccination that changed human life for the better on a large scale agglomerated only from the beginning of modernity, that is, after the moment when they might have been instrumental in winning the new science’s general recognition. In fact, the most important medium for early modern scientists to convince their contemporaries was texts – a tremendous mass of texts in most different genres: treatises, dissertations, journal articles, letters, dialogues, biographies of scientists, didactic epics, corollary poems and so forth.

The structure and staff of the programme line will differ from the previous phase as well as the other two programme lines within the LBI: Thanks to a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant granted to Martin Korenjak in March 2017, there will be six researchers working on the topic of Neo-Latin and Early Modern science, three within the LBI and three at the University’s Classics department. They will carry out six different sub-projects, concerned with the various genres in which Early Modern science was brought forth, as well as with the ways in which the many new, sometimes radical ideas were labelled, explained and conveyed to the audience. Apart from articles, conference papers and other activities, the individual sub-projects will result in six monographs shedding light on different aspects of the role of Latin for Early Modern science.

Thus, the LBI’s Science Line, together with the ERC funded project  “NOSCEMUS”, aims at alerting today’s scientific community to the existence of the forgotten scientific literature of early modern times and to establish this literature as a legitimate and important object of research in the history of science. The humanistic and rhetorical characteristics that distinguish it sharply from modern texts in the natural sciences shall be scrutinized and it will be shown how they served to present people with startling novelties in acceptable and convincing form and to promote the new science as a whole.