John J. Burns Library's Blog

Would you rather be knowledgeable on a variety of topics, or an expert on just one topic? Today’s emphasis on academic specialization supports the latter—we rarely encounter someone with multiple PhDs in unrelated fields. Rarely do we go beyond the question or suggest the obvious third option: what if we could be an expert in a range of disciplines?

Modern academic world, meet Athanasius Kircher.

Portrait of Athanasius Kircher Portrait of Athanasius Kircher, Mundus Subterraneus. Amstelodami : Apud Joannem Janssonium & Elizeum Weyerstraten anno MDCLXV. Jesuitica Collection.

Kircher, a Jesuit priest of the German Enlightenment, has been referred to as “The Last Man Who Knew Everything” for attempting to be a polymathic scholar. Kircher published nearly 40 works on a diverse range of subjects, from linguistics and Egyptology to geology and medicine. Despite his powerful resume, however, history has forgotten him for one simple reason: Kircher was wrong about almost everything.

Kircher dedicated his…

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