Maria Theresa and Cassini de Thury: The Limits of Trans-Imperial Scientific Collaboration

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:20 PM
Columbia Hall 7 (Washington Hilton)
Madalina Valeria Veres, University of Pittsburgh
Madalina Valeria Veres

Maria Theresa and Cassini de Thury: the limits of trans-imperial scientific collaboration

On 18 May 1761, the French astronomer and mapmaker CÚsar François Cassini de Thury visited the imperial residence at Schönbrunn and met the Habsburg family. Empress Maria Theresa (1740-1780) received Cassini with honors and supported the French scientist’s project of connecting the Paris meridian with Vienna by providing the required instruments, engineers from the military academy in Vienna, and a collaborator for Cassini: the Jesuit Father Joseph Liesganig, director of the Observatory at the University of Vienna. Maria Theresa’s gesture was not only an act to cement the 1756 Bourbon-Habsburg alliance. During her forty-year reign the Habsburg monarch contributed to the significant development of cartography within her lands through the commissioning of the first detailed military map of her provinces, known in the literature as the Josephinische Aufnahme. I argue that encouraging Cassini in 1761 to perform measurements around Vienna can be interpreted as a way for Habsburg employees to learn from Cassini’s experience. Indeed, in 1764, fourteen years after Cassini had started working on a detailed topographic map of France, the empress Maria Theresa ordered the mapping of the entire Habsburg Monarchy. Whereas the Cassini Map of France was printed and sold for a wider public, the Habsburg military survey remained in manuscript and was jealously guarded within the Imperial War Council’s Archive in Vienna.

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