J.A. Comenius Museum – Prague, Czechia - Atlas Obscura

J.A. Comenius Museum

Dedicated to the "father of modern education," this museum documents the history of education in Czechia. 

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Officially called the National Pedagogical Museum and Library of J.A. Comenius, this is one of the oldest museums in Czechia, founded in 1892. It preserves the history of the Czech educational system by looking at how students and teachers have evolved over time.

The museum is named after Johan Amos Comenius, a Czech philosopher and educator who is considered by many the father of modern education. Born in Moravia in 1592, Comenius began life impoverished and did not begin his own formal education until he was 16 years old. His own circumstances perhaps led to his later advocacy for universal education (regardless of class, wealth, gender, or religion) as well as pansophism, or the the study of all subjects and their interconnectedness. 

First and foremost a Protestant pastor, Comenius lived in the midst of the turbulent times of the Thirty Years War and the English Civil War. As his fame grew from the publication of works like Didactica Magna (The Great Didactic), he became a target of opposing religious and political leaders. Comenius advocated against rote education methods, instead promoting progressive education in native languages which ran strongly against tradition.

In 1641, Comenius was invited to leave the tumult of Europe to be president of Harvard University. He turned down the offer, and instead chose instead to work for the Swedish government to reorganize its schools. After spending time in Poland, Hungary, and England, he eventually sought refuge in Amsterdam, where he died in 1670.

Comenius’ promotion of pansophism is said to have inspired the founding of the Royal Society in England as well as numerous educational institutions around the world. His systematic theories of education influenced later educators to develop kindergartens as well as the system of gradation that nearly all U.S. schools follow to this day. More importantly, one might argue that books like Dr. Seuss’ One fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar owe a debt to Comenius—his book Orbis Pictus was one of the earliest picture books for children.

The museum itself is housed on a Gothic site in a building known as the House at the Golden Sun that has been significantly reconstructed over the past seven centuries. It had many illustrious owners before the museum took over, including the silver chamberlain for Rudolf II. Today, it features a room with Comenius’ desk and some of his well-known books, as well as other displays presenting an exhaustive history of education including model classrooms. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum has rotating exhibits, hosts public programs, and is the home of the exclusive Comenius Academic Club. A visit to this museum constitutes the quintessential teachable moment.

Know Before You Go

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  The exhibits are translated into English and are entirely accessible to non-Czech visitors.