A jubilee journey through time and space

Join us on a journey through the centuries, a hunt for the point where the present and the past merge. The history of the University is alive and well among us. After all, it is the same city, the same streets and buildings now as then. The only thing that distinguishes us from our colleagues from the 1600s, from a purely geographical point of view, is a measurable stretch in space: 350 years of University history is 350 orbits around the sun. Neither more nor less. So let’s take a walk in the December gloom and land our time machine where everything started.


The Liberiet building next to the cathedral was one of the University’s first lecture halls. The winter gloom and the moonlight help to shrink the distance of time. Photo: Kennet Ruona.

In an almost inexplicable way, we push away from the atoms which hold the present together in our own time. We travel backwards and land the time machine in another now, in 17th century Lund, when the University is brand new. In front of us are the red brick walls of the Liberiet building. This small, medieval edifice is one of the University’s first teaching premises. This is where the natural science lectures, among others, are held.

If you lean against the worn facade for a short while, you might experience a moment of timelessness. Maybe the evening darkness contributes to this perception. Or perhaps it is the eternal light of the moon. You glimpse something out of the corner of your eye. Could it be professor of mathematics Anders Spole, turning the corner to enter the building for yet another of his lectures? Spole is one of the University’s first professors and, in addition to mathematics, his post also covers the subjects of physics, astronomy and navigation. A preserved list of the lectures held in 1671 reveals that he taught general optics, light refraction and reflection. He also conducts demonstration experiments for the students. His colleague, professor of mathematics Martin Nordeman, lectures on classical mechanics.

During his earlier trip to Europe, Anders Spole met several of the foremost science researchers and mathematicians of the time. Moreover, in the course of his travels, he learnt how to grind lenses for optical instruments and has now arranged the construction of Lund’s first astronomical observatory, with a telescope just over ten metres long, on the roof of his home a few blocks away. The investigation of the night sky is revolutionary and fascinating; a search for pieces of the puzzle forming a new world view.

Lund cathedral rises like an imposing grey colossus next to Liberiet’s slender presence, perhaps a symbolic reminder of which subjects the Church still considers to be most important for the University in its early days. Despite the prevailing politics and power structures, the natural sciences have managed to obtain relatively many of the University’s first professorships. Lund University aspires to be an institute of learning in the front line of the advancing body of knowledge. Unfortunately, only eight years after its inception, the University’s activities are hastily terminated, or hastily interrupted, if we look at events in hindsight. Denmark declares war on Sweden and many Lund buildings are burnt down, having been plundered by the Danes. Professor Spole cannot imagine, as he stands inside Liberiet among his students, that only a few years later his newly constructed observatory will be destroyed in the fires.

A brief stroll of only a couple of minutes from Liberiet to the King’s House takes us into the next century. We land the time machine in 1735, outside the tower staircase in the centre of the building. The University’s activities are in full swing. At last, a calm working environment, after interruptions caused by two rounds of Danish plunder. The King’s House has now been renovated and extended. The magnificent tower staircase is only three years old. Inside the King’s House, an anatomical theatre will soon be inaugurated. In addition, two unique collections are now being installed here, each in its own corner room in the west wing on the second floor.

Kilian Stobaeus

Professor Kilian Stobaeus is undeniably an interdisciplinary researcher. First, he was appointed to a professorship in natural history and physics in 1728, but he exchanged the position for a better paid professorship in history in 1732. The attractive salary consists of 300 bushels of grain per year.

One room serves to display the collection of professor Killian Stobaeus. In that precise year, Stobaeus donated his collection of curiosities to the University. He is one of Sweden’s pioneers in the collection of interesting objects: fossils, plants, snail shells, archaeological finds, ethnographical items from other parts of the world. There is no limit to what can be of value in the exploration of our world through the sciences. Stobaeus’s collection also includes an ancient condom, a Greenland kayak and parts of a scull said to have belonged to Descartes. The collection of curiosities had previously been kept in Stobaeus’s home. But as of now, the year 1735, the objects will be able to impress many more visitors thanks to their exhibition in the King’s House. Moreover, the collection contributes to both teaching and research.

The adjacent room contains the other unique collection, consisting of a large number of instruments illustrating various principles of physics. More specifically, there are 327 objects, with which one can demonstrate phenomena such as electricity, gravity, the laws of motion, optics and the state of stable fluids. Lund University received the collection from professor Daniel Menlös in connection with his appointment as professor of mathematics a few years earlier. Indeed, Daniel Menlös promised that he would purchase the entire collection with his own funds from his previous employer Mårten Triewald in Stockholm and donate the items to the University, if he got the professor’s post in Lund.

We look towards the west gable, at the second floor where both collections were once displayed. For a brief moment, there is a floating sense of timelessness. Or perhaps it is only a vague longing in the depths of the soul. The distance disappears. Precisely here, in this building, our University conducted its activities for so many years, all the way into our own era. So many people have passed through here. University colleagues. Students. Young people with dreams for the future. All these destinies. So many people to talk to.

Rather than staying, however, we must take our time machine to the next landing place. We wander from the King’s House to the building which, in our own era, houses the Historical Museum. Here, we land in the mid-1800s. The distances are short, the University’s buildings have so far been gathered around the symbolic hub of the cathedral. But soon, major changes await.

The newly erected building before us has just become the departmental building for the subjects of chemistry, physics and zoology. It would be tempting to enter and look for Professor Sven Nilsson in the corridors, to ask him about his correspondence with a certain Charles Darwin, but the time travel through this new century seems to require too much energy. It almost makes you giddy. The body of knowledge within academia is increasing at an accelerated rate. The subjects are becoming increasingly specialised, and the natural sciences and medicine in particular require bigger premises for their collections and experiments. Soon, even this large new building will no longer suffice – an increasing number of subjects are getting their own departments in dedicated buildings. We now have to choose a specialisation. Which subject shall we follow in order to get back home to our own era?

We choose physics, so we must move on fairly promptly. Only a few decades pass during our walk up to the southern end of Sölvegatan. We land our time machine outside the building which, in our own era, houses the Pufendorf Institute but which was brand new in 1885 and intended to provide the subject of physics with its own department. A quick look at the lovely facade gives rise to a wild wish – imagine if Manne Siegbahn had stayed here with his world-leading research, which earned him the Nobel Prize just after he moved to Uppsala University in the 1920s.

We continue along Sölvegatan. The cathedral as a hub now feels quite distant, as each step we take brings us closer to our own era. Today’s Department of Physics is located in buildings from 1950, but we are not satisfied with parking our time machine there on the hill, in our present time. Those who wish can continue to walk towards the future, towards what forms a part of the University’s future, all the way out to MAX IV.

On reaching MAX IV, we realise that the present has come with us. Not really surprising, as this is how existence functions – time continuously expands its horizon. And everything is in constant change. Except the moon, which in one single movement seems to look down both on us and on our former colleagues through the centuries.

Lena Björk Blixt