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The Start of Teaching Geography to Slovenians and the Role of Blaž Kocen

Summary

Exhibition catalogue 

 

The Start of Teaching Geography to Slovenians and the Role of Blaž Kocen

 

Early modern geographical researchers in the lands inhabited by Slovenians started with Herman of Carinthia and most of all Sigismund Herberstein (* 1486 Vipava; † 1566 Vienna) who discovered Russia for Europe. Slovenians so far have a tradition of at least half a millennium in scientific geography.
In Protestant times Ljubljana had eminent teachers such as Nikodem Frischlin (* 1547 Balingen; † 1590 Hohen-Urach at Württenberg), who published several treatises on astronomy, including some geographical data. His Ljubljana Protestant School was soon replaced by a Jesuit one. The Jesuits taught young Carniolan males for nearly two centuries. They gave geographical lectures at their high school and after 1705 also at the university level of their philosophical studies.
The Jesuits gained the strong support of the local nobility. The Carniolan nobles traditionally fostered great interest in geographical matters and developed many first-rate libraries with excellent geographical books in the baroque Ljubljana. The Auersperg Prince Trust library of Ljubljana had a hundred excellent geographical books that were mostly collected by Count Volf Engelbert Auersperg (* 1610; † 1671) and his brother Prince Janez Vajkard Auersperg (* 1615; † 1677). Volf’s young friend and admirer Baron Janez Vajkard Valvasor put together a library which was by no means smaller and even slightly more modern. Valvasor also bought French, Dutch and English books. He was able to broaden his geographical knowledge as a Fellow of the London Royal Society. The Society expected Valvasor to extend his cartography towards the Turkish regions of the Balkans which they hoped in vain would soon be rechristianised.
Volf cousin’s son, Volf Engelbert Auersperg (* 1641; † 1709), invented the geographical game Orbis Lusus during his studies at the University of Graz in 1659. He published a huge volume of 250 pages to describe its geographical context with the help of his mathematics professor, the Jesuit Kirchoffer von Kirchoffen. The Middle European nobility enjoyed Auersperg’s game for several decades. They used to turn a table around that was covered by a map. The map was divided into 1680 parts called areolas. They played all around the world they knew. Certainly, their Australia was described as ‘nothing but sea’, but they eventually provided a good enough description of the Americas because the Auerspergs had several books describing the geography of the new continent. The players used a compass to orientate themselves and eventually saw their game as being useful for education.
Geography was part of the applied mathematics curriculum until the 19th century. It was only later that geography became connected with the humanities and history in particular. Geography became a significant part of the history curriculum in Middle Europe only after the 1848 Spring of Nations to become an independent chair a quarter of a century later. Therefore, Auersperg’s geographical game-dissertation in 1659 was supervised by his professor of mathematics. This happened just four years after a fascinating exchange of letters about games of chance between Blaise Pascal and Pierre Fermat that extended over four months in the summer and autumn of 1654. Auersperg and Kirchoffer von Kirchoffen’s geographical game was clearly accepted in the mainstream of the era.
Janez Baptist Mayr published his first Ljubljana catalogue on books for sale in 1678 with several excellent geographical volumes being included. Mayr cleverly predicted a successful market in Ljubljana based on the growing interest in geography among Carniolans. The descendants of Volf’s customs officer Erberg became members of Volf’s intellectual circle that encompassed Valvasor and Janez Ludwig Schönleben. All of them collected an admirable number of geographical titles in their library.
The Auerspergs and Erbergs firmly supported the Ljubljana Jesuits. Many of Baron Erberg’s family studied and taught in Ljubljana. Several members of his family made a worldwide geographical contribution as missionaries, especially Inocent Erberg at Uruguay-Paraguay and his nephew Avguštin Hallerstein at Beijing. Inocent’s brother Anton published geographical books and his cousin Jesuit Bernard Ferdinand Baron Erberg (* 1718; † 1773) bought useful geographical instruments for the Jesuit college of Ljubljana in 1751.
The Ljubljana Jesuits published their first geographical books soon after they introduced philosophical studies in 1705 when geography was still part of the applied mathematics chair. During Empress Maria Therese’s era they usually put several geographical examination questions to their students in lower and higher studies. Gabriel Gruber began to teach cartography at Ljubljana. His former students became able engineers and drew exceptionally good pictures of the Sava and Mura rivers for navigational purposes. The later famous Jurij Vega was one of Gruber’s best cartographers trained at Gruber’s Ljubljana school.
The penultimate Baron Erberg, Janez Kalasanc, inherited a huge library including geographical books and made friends with an other important baron of Ljubljana, Žiga Zois. Zois also collected geographical books with growing modern connotations. Like with Count Volf Engelbert Auersperg a century and a half before him, Zois gathered important young people at his home. Many of Zois’ young friends contributed major steps toward modern Slovenian geography, including the historian Anton Tomaž Linhart and teacher Valentin Vodnik.
In the decades leading up to the 1848 Spring of Nations Janez Kerstnik Kersnik and Karl Hummel were professors of physics and mathematics at Ljubljana. They used geographical tools and published geographical textbooks. After the (1848) revolution, Karel Robida, born in the suburbs of Ljubljana, became a highly influential professor of physics and mathematics at Celovec. He taught Jožef Stefan, probably the most successful scientist of Slovenian origin.
Robida published an introduction to the first geographical textbook in the Slovenian language.
Geographical research was promoted at the Ljubljana Museum Society under the leadership of Karl Dežman. The young Styrian teacher Blaž Kocen was an active member of the Museum Society. Kocen lectured on local meteorological data at one of the very first Museum Society meetings. Kocen taught at the Ljubljana High School and Dežman’s liberal circles influenced his passion for geography.
It has been claimed that the development of geography in the lands inhabited by Slovenians was closely connected with local school textbooks, especially in the 19th century after the Jesuits lost their pedagogical monopoly. Kocen made his name in geography, but his publications in meteorology and astronomy also deserve to be put in the limelight. The same goes for his pedagogical work in mathematics and even more in physics. He learned the modern experimental method at Andreas von Ettingshausen’s Viennese Physical Institute where Jožef Stefan also studied.
Kocen published famous geography textbooks for primary and secondary schools covering most needs of the Habsburg Monarchy. Kocen published exceptionally successful geographical books and his work stimulated many other efforts in the lands inhabited by Slovenians, most notably Peter Kozler and finally Janez Jesenko and Cigale who began to use Slovenian geographical language. Kocen's contributions may be compared to Franc Močnik's mathematical textbooks. In a way he was even more successful. Kocen was able to sell his textbooks to the newly formed German lands north of his native Habsburg monarchy. Kocen's textbooks began with mathematical and physical geography. His excellent drawings included in the introductory paragraphs of mathematical geography helped young people take their first steps towards solid astronomical knowledge.
The former inhabitants of what is today Slovenia with their once mixed Slovenian-German-Italian inhabitants and cultures considerably contributed to the development of world geography. Kocen’s success was just the tip of the iceberg of the efforts of his predecessors and contemporaries who mapped Middle Europe as we know it today.
 
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Slovenian school museum
Plečnikov trg 1, 1000, Slovenia,
e-mail: solski.muzej@guest.arnes.si,
telephone: +386 01/251-30-24 (management),
+386 01/251-31-27 (curator),
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