Introduction – The idea of “discovery”

The idea of “discovery” — of exploring the unknown, of finding and attempting novel things, of creating new objects and artefacts, of innovative challenges to the conventional – has been constant in the history of humankind and of Europe. The passion to discover is one of the most common and permanent traits of European history and culture. Along the centuries its pursuit has united the lands and the peoples of the various European nations in common enterprises. The history of the development of science and of technological progress is truly a chapter of international cooperation in the history of Europe.

This Exhibition tries to show not only the historical continuity of the permanent efforts to make discoveries, but also the richness and the multiform variety of this very European passion. Above all, it tries to show that the making of discoveries and inventions lies at the heart of Europe’s cultural heritage. Archives in Europe abound with documents and materials that witness the constant desire to explore and to discover, and these documents tell thousands of different stories. The three Pillars of this Exhibition – Medicine, Energy/Industry, Transports/Navigation – are an attempt at providing a glimpse of the multifarious variety of stories, events and personalities involved in discoveries of many different types during the long history of Europe. It is thus an Exhibition not only about the discoveries themselves, but also about their archival memory, the memory of one of Europe’s most distinctive cultural traits.

The two driving forces behind all efforts of discovery were – and most likely still are – curiosity and the desire for an improvement in the conditions of life. Judging from the documents presented here, the practical desire for a better life was the dominant impulse and three themes appear to have been the more frequent: innovations in the fighting and controlling of diseases, improvements in transportation, including flying, and, finally, improvements in technological processes and industrial machinery.

These documents are not the result of mere intellectual achievements. Behind each of them are often very lively stories, filled with the passion and drama of human existence. These stories confirm the inventiveness and the intellectual brilliance of many of the discoverers, but they also show sometimes their physical boldness, their stamina and determination to overcome all sorts of obstacles and difficulties.

Preserving the memory of the world of discoveries and inventions, of scientific progress and technological advances, is to protect one of the most characteristic elements of European identity and heritage.