Monumenta Kircheri

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Illustration from Kircher's Polygraphia nova et universalis ex combinatoria arte detecta (Romæ, ex typographia Varesii, 1663) title-page.

The observation on modernity: a case study

Umberto Eco famously defined the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) as ‘the most contemporary among our ancestors, and the most outdated among our contemporaries’. We propose to focus on Kircher's Correspondence and on his works. Athanasius Kircher is as a case study to explore the complexities and paradoxes of a ‘long’ modernity, starting from the seventeenth century up to our own world. In fact, the fundamental aim of this project is to articulate more clearly what is often hidden in every historical research: what matters to us is not in the past, but in the present. From a methodological point of view, we want this project to be not simply inter-disciplinary, but indeed trans-disciplinary. We start from Kircher’s crucial role in the early modern Republic of Letters and we insert Kircher’s case within a larger context involving the question of the nature of knowledge as both a kind of savoir faire and a kind of savoir vivre. From this perspective, we propose to reconsider Kircher’s vast bibliographical production and the methods of its dissemination, highlighting how Kircher grappled with, and contributed to develop, the concept of novitas. Our project is also concerned with the material aspect of culture, and more specifically with the early modern changes in the modes and methods of communicating and disseminating knowledge. The way in which Kircher managed, reproduced, and created knowledge is a lens through which we can understand several fundamental aspects of both the early modern and the modern world, which have been the object of a recent surge of scholarly interest, such as the exponential growth of information and consequently the development of new and more effective techniques to digest, store, and select this new amount of knowledge.

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The Archives preserve 14 volumes of letters sent by and to Athanasius Kircher and five manuscripts, mostly unpublished. Years ago, Stanford University digitized all the letters and made them accessible via LunaImaging software, enriching them with detailed metadata. To complete this work, here we have started to transcribe the letters. In addition we will proceed to transcribe a selection of Kircher's published works.
Thanks to last years’ activities carried out with high schools students[1], APUG decided to put about 70 boys and girls to work in this project. In addition to transcription task, they also have to annotate the texts, finding entities such as Names, Works, Places, Terms and Objects.

This project is supported by Fondazione Sorgente Group.

Athanasius Kircher Correspondence

The publication of Kircher's Correspondence is the main goal of the project. Our first aim is to transcribe all the letters within the 14 codices preserved by the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University; letters preserved by other institutions will be added too. Each letter will be available in two version: a diplomatic transcription and a reviewed transcription. The latter will be used to perform the actual edition - with comments, notes etc. - and the semantic annotation too. Semantic annotation allows to univocally identify entities cited within the texts, such as names, places, works and so on; entities will have a dedicated page where users can acquire information about them.


In this section we will provide full descriptions and partial transcriptions from Kircher's published works and from his manuscripts preserved by the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University. In addition several works about Kircher and by his closer collaborators will be made available too.

Bibliographia Kircheriana

This section of the Athanasius Kircher Project aims to set up a comprehensive database of publications about Kircher. This bibliography is based on two main sources:

  1. László Polgár, Bibliographie sur l'histoire de la Compagnie de Jésus, 1901-1980, Roma, Institutum Historicum S.I., 1981-1990;
  2. the annual bibliography published in Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, that since 1981 continues the Polgár's work.

More bibliographic entries are constantly added and updated. If you should notice any lack or mistake, please write to us using this form or, if you already have a GATE account, write a message to ArchivesPUG.


Unless otherwise indicated, all files and contributions (transcriptions, pages, comments) uploaded and submitted to GATE by administrators and users are considered to be released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. All the rights on the images of the manuscripts or other documentation are property of the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University (User:ArchivesPUG). If you need high resolution images for your publications or for other usages, please contact us using this form.

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Your contributions to GATE must be original or, at most, copied from public domain or similar free sources. Remember to always cite your sources and, more important, do not submit copyrighted work without permission.

Report any abuses to the project administrators, using this form.


We would like to thank:

  • Fiammetta Iovine for her valuable and unique contribution to this project
  • prof. Hans-Joachim Vollrath (Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Mathematisches Institut) and dr. Thomas Conlon for their kindness in sharing transcriptions and translations of the Athanasius Kircher Correspondence
  • prof. Sven Knebel (Freie Universität Berlin, Institut für Philosophie Department) for the transcription of several letters from the Athanasius Kircher Correspondence