Invisible College

precursor group to the Royal Society of London, consisting of a number of natural philosophers around Robert Boyle

The Invisible College was the name given to themselves by a group of like-minded scientists and natural philosophers in England in the mid-17th century.[1] The informal association is considered to have been one of the origins of the Royal Society.[2]

The purpose of the invisible college was to encourage each other to develop scientific knowledge through experiments and other kinds of investigation.[3]

Some of the members of the Invisible College were among the founders of the Royal Society in 1660,[4] including Robert Boyle, John Wilkins and Samuel Hartlib.[2]

Modern useEdit

The concept of invisible college was developed in the sociology of science by Diane Crane,[5] building on de Solla Price's work on citation networks. It is related to, but significantly different from, other concepts of expert communities, such as "Epistemic communities",[6] or "Communities of Practice".[7] Recently, the concept was applied to the global network of communications among scientists by Caroline S. Wagner.[8]

In fiction it is mentioned in the novel The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, and was the inspiration for the Unseen University in the works of Terry Pratchett.

Related pagesEdit


  1. Kassell, Lauren. "Invisible College (act. 1646-1647)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lyons, Henry 1944. The Royal Society 1660-1940 : a history of its administration under its charters. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1–19 OCLC 59841604
  3. The Royal Society
  4. "Robert Boyle’s astonishing scientific wishlist," The Royal Society: 350 Years of Science (exhibition). June 2010.
  5. Crane, Diana 1972. Invisible colleges: diffusion of knowledge in scientific communities. University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London. ISBN 0226118576
  6. Haas P. 1990. Obtaining international environmental protection through epistemic consensus, Millennium Journal of International Studies 19:3, 347-363.
  7. Wenger, Etienne 1998. Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-66363-2
  8. Wagner, Caroline S. 2008. The new Invisible College: science for development. Brooking Press: Washington DC.