The Romanian Academy was founded on 1/13 April 1866 under the name of the Romanian Literary Society. Thus was achieved one of the main projects in the program of modernization adopted after the 1859 Union of the two Romanian Principalities, Wallachia and Moldavia, the nucleus of present-day Romania.
Academies in the older sense - meaning schools of higher learning - had existed in these principalities since the 16th century. The most active and long-lasting were the academies of the princedom instituted in Bucharest (around 1689) and Iasi (in 1707) which trained the Christian intellectual elite in South Eastern Europe and the Near East and would become the first universities in Romania in the 19th century.
However, in order to further its modernization, Romanian society needed a different kind of academy, after the model of Western Europes academies: an institution that would gather the preeminent personalities of the nations intellectual life as a group of reflection and action toward the general progress through science and culture. At first, this idea took the form of learned societies with literary and more generally cultural goals, such as those started locally in Brasov (1821), Bucharest (1844), Sibiu (1861), Cernauti (1862). Their success encouraged the notion of a central institution to promote literary and scientific creation, animate the traditions of world literature, and compile an exhaustive dictionary of Romanian literature. This was the institution founded in 1866, which would begin its activity the following year, under the name of Societatea Academica Romāna (The Romanian Academic Society).
The newly founded institution was from the very beginning a national, encyclopedic and active society. Why national? Because it was representative of culture not only on the territory of what was then Romania but also on territories under foreign domination by the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian Empires. Hence, the 21 founding members were scholars and literati not only from Wallachia and Moldavia, but also from Transylvania, Banat, Maramures, Bukovine, Bessarabia (today the Republic of Moldavia) and the Balkan Peninsula.
In 1879, through a special law, the Romanian Academic Society was promulgated a national institution with the name of Academia Romāna - The Romanian Academy, a "moral and independent entity in all of its undertakings of whatever nature." The Academy was encyclopedic because its preoccupations embraced all domains of the arts, letters, and sciences. The Code of bylaws of 1867 established three sections: philology-literature (also including the plastic arts), history-archeology and natural sciences. New sections were added later on, in accordance with the general progress of science. Finally, the Romanian Academy was not conceived by its founders only as a forum of national recognition but as an active center of scientific research and literary and artistic creation.
In the 134 years since its inception, the Academy has crossed both luminous and somber periods, has known both success and defeat, and throughout all has enjoyed the admiration of the nation, the respect of scholarly circles worlwide, and the generosity of many donors who have thus ensured, next to government funding, the necessary resources for the activity and development of a scientific center of such breadth. Conversely, the Academy has also tasted the humiliations of political enslavement and marginalization imposed by the totalitarian communist regime.
During the longest part of its activity, the Academy achieved the goals set by its founders, and succeeded in being the main forum of reflection and intellectual creation, both literary and artistic, of the Romanian people. The kings of the country were the honorary presidents and protectors of the Academy; its acting and associate members were the most representative personalities in sciences, arts, and letters in Romania; its honorary members were important figures of national and international repute, tied through research, contribution and affection to the realities of Romania. Its prestige and tireless work in the service of sciences and of the nation had earned it the authority to proclaim "immortals."
The quality of academician was synonymous with absolute intellectual preeminence in modern Romanian society. The members of the Academy promoted scientific, cultural and social progress. Educated in the great intellectual centers of Western Europe, they were by their training, activity and relationships - determined and determining agents of modernization in Romania. They organized research centers in diverse domains; they wrote and published works of reference in Romanian or European scientific literature; they founded and endowed museums and libraries; they provided the solutions to national problems in economy, technology, medicine or education; finally, through courses and theoretical as well as practical guidance, they trained young scholars which would rise to both national and international fame, illustrating excellence both as scientists and as university professors. The development of each domain of activity in the program of the Romanian Academy, summarized in the pages of this book, coincides with the very history of modern and contemporary Romanian culture.
The excellence of the Romanian Academy also explains the special attention paid to it, with such mixed results, by the communist government in the period between 1948-1989. Its plan to turn Romania into a "multilaterally developed socialist state" after the Soviet model required on one hand a considerable growth of the scientific potential, especially in the domains of fundamental research and technology, as instruments of the economic and material progress of society, and on the other a reshaping of ideas and culture to make them conform to the Marxist doctrine of historic and dialectic materialism. As in the Soviet Union, the Academy was to play a main part in this program, of course under the watchful and severe direction of the Romanian Communist Party. Consequently, the law of June 9, 1948 turned the Romanian Academy into the Academy of the Peoples Republic of Romania, reorganized it into 6 sections and 25 subsections, and gave priority to the exact and applied sciences, placing the socio-human sciences last in rank of importance. On this occasion, more than 90 acting, associate and honorary members were expelled from the Academy, since they were deemed unfit to the new cultural orientations and hostile to the communist regime, on the strength of their ideas, works and political convictions. Purges of this sort were extended to the staff of the Academys institutes. At the same time, the assets of the Academy were nationalized, and the institution became in all respects enslaved to the state. Later on, the Academy was to be parted from many of its various possessions, often without even a minimum of legal formality, as its collections of documents, coins, archeological finds and artworks were being abusively shipped to other state institutions.
The Academy, restructured by the new regime, had 66 members nominated by presidential decree and dispersed into 6 scientific sections. From amongst the former members of the Academy, 19 had been kept as acting members and 15 as honorary members; most were specialists in theoretical and applied sciences.
As far as the selection of new members went, their political attitude was a necessary criterion but only seldom also a sufficient one. Totalitarian regimes have always used science as a political weapon, adducing its superiority as evidence of their superiority, and for this reason most of those nominated members of the Academy were scholars of great renown, although exceptions could be and were made in the case of those with weighty political functions.
In the first two decades of the communist regime, the Academy and its scientific network grew considerably, from 7 research facilities with nearly 400 scientific collaborators in 1948 to 56 institutes or centers with about 2,500 employees in 1966. Their activity was checked both scientifically, to ensure conformity with the research plans drawn and followed up by the Academys sections and by the boards of the institutes, and politically, this time to ensure that the ideological priorities and the correlation with the major interests of the society, which science was supposed to serve, were always safeguarded. However, the main preoccupation of the Academys scientists was to be constantly in touch, beyond or despite these limitations, with worldwide science, by keeping informed, corresponding professionally, and participating in international meetings held abroad. Every domain of scientific research progressed during this time; yet every advancement was obtained not only with effort and devotion, but also with daring and at personal risk for those involved. During that time, there existed not only laureates of the state science prizes, but also scientists publicly exposed for ideological errors, "cosmopolitanism," etc.
In the second half of the totalitarian regime, as the discretionary rule of Romania increased, the Academy gradually lost its relative credit as well as its former prerogatives, being for all practical purposes simply pushed aside. In 1969, a decision of the Council of Ministers removed 12 institutes and centers of medical research in Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi, Timisoara and Tārgu Mures from the system of the Academy and placed them under the direction of the Academy of Medical Sciences. After 1970, a newly founded Academy of Social and Political Sciences swallowed up all of the Academys institutes of socio-human sciences. In 1974, the modifications of the Academys code of bylaws put it under the direction of the National Council for Science and Technology, and in the course of the same year, the Academy was stripped of all of its remaining institutes in Bucharest and other major cities - institutes of mathematics, statistics, geography, linguistics, literary history, folklore, the Astronomical Observatory and others - which were redistributed to the ministries of education and culture. Thus the Academy ceased to be the national fountainhead of creation and research in science, letters and arts intended by its founders, although it had played this role successfully for over a century. Nevertheless, even during this period of marginalization, under various guises and in diverse structures of organization and hierarchy, the creative and research activities of this national institution continued, through the efforts of scholars and scientists belonging to the academic tradition.
The ten years since the fall of the communist regime in Romania have meant for the Romanian Academy a period of restoration and reinstatement in the vocation, dignity and fundamental role the institution had cultivated from its very beginning, and of which it had been abusively stripped. Through the law-decree of January 5, 1990, regarding its organization and operation, the Romanian Academy recovered not only its name but also its status as "the highest scientific authority in the country, bringing together the worthiest personalities in science, technology, education, culture and art in Romania, as representing the creative spirituality of the nation." At the same time, the law recognizes the Academys prerogatives as an independent institution, financed by the state and governed by the General Assembly of its acting and associate members, as well as its right to its own network of "science facilities for advanced and fundamental research." These rights - also included in the new Code of bylaws, adopted February 2, 1990 - took effect immediately. As early as January 22 of the same year, the Academy elected new acting members, a prerogative it had been denied for 15years, since 1974. The next step was the election of a new administration of the Academy through secret ballot (for the first time in 42 years!). The Academy recognized the quality of uninterrupted membership of all its members who had been excluded for political reasons by the communist dictatorship in 1948. The associate members of the Romanian Academy who during the totalitarian regime had lost this quality because they had permanently left the country were also reinstated. Great personalities of Romanian cultural life who had been set aside as politically incorrect during communist rule were granted posthumous membership to the Academy. Internationally renowned scholars among whom Romanian natives living abroad were elected as new honorary members. The scientific network of institutes that had been dismantled after 1969 was put back together again, as the 63 institutes, centers and other research facilities of the Academy throughout the country came once more under its direction.