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Reading Galileo

Scribal Technologies and the Two New Sciences

In 1638, Galileo was over seventy years old, blind, and confined to house arrest outside of Florence. With the help of friends and family, he managed to complete and smuggle to the Netherlands a manuscript that became his final published work, Two New Sciences. Treating diverse subjects that became the foundations of mechanical engineering and physics, this book is often depicted as the definitive expression of Galileo’s purportedly modern scientific agenda. In Reading Galileo, Renée Raphael offers a new interpretation of Two New Sciences which argues instead that the work embodied no such coherent canonical vision. Raphael alleges that it was written—and originally read—as the eclectic product of the types of discursive textual analysis and meandering descriptive practices Galileo professed to reject in favor of more qualitative scholarship.

Focusing on annotations period readers left in the margins of extant copies and on the notes and teaching materials of seventeenth-century university professors whose lessons were influenced by Galileo’s text, Raphael explores the ways in which a range of early-modern readers, from ordinary natural philosophers to well-known savants, responded to Galileo. She highlights the contrast between the practices of Galileo’s actual readers, who followed more traditional, "bookish" scholarly methods, and their image, constructed by Galileo and later historians, as "modern" mathematical experimenters.

Two New Sciences has not previously been the subject of such rigorous attention and analysis. Reading Galileo considerably changes our understanding of Galileo’s important work while offering a well-executed case study in the reception of an early-modern scientific classic. This important text will be of interest to a wide range of historians—of science, of scholarly practices and the book, and of early-modern intellectual and cultural history.

About the Author

Renée Raphael is an assistant professor of history at the University of California, Irvine.

Endorsements

"An innovative, valuable, and brilliantly researched study of the initial reception and multiple uses of one of the most important books in the history of science. Using a sophisticated and well-chosen methodology, Raphael convincingly establishes the relationship between individual actors' reading techniques and their intellectual ecosystems"

- Nick Wilding, Georgia State University

"An important, innovative work, extensively and meticulously researched."

- Nick Jardine, University of Cambridge

"Through remarkable research in manuscript materials that have never been studied before, Renée Raphael takes us into the mental processes of early modern readers, some famous, some not, as they grappled with Galileo’s Two New Sciences. In this wonderfully innovative blend of history of science and book history, we learn about Galileo’s sciences of matter and motion, but also about methods of reading, note-taking, and teaching through which contemporaries absorbed this work into their thinking, often in more traditional ways than we might expect."

- Ann Blair, Harvard University

Reviews

"This work provides an interesting historical examination of Galileo’s original text. Recommended"

- Choice

"Raphael’s book is an uncommon and very welcome contribution to the ever-growing Galileo scholarship."

- Annals of Science

"Eye-opening...Raphael's brilliant epilogue has far-reaching implications for narratives of change. Her critique of the prevailing historiography of the Scientific Revolution highlights deep flaws in its warfare model of change, in which traditionalists fight innovators and noncombatants are irrelevant. Leading by example, she suggests that researchers learn to appreciate that most readers neither embrace nor reject novelty in toto. The pick-and-choose eclecticism that Raphael has found among readers of Two New Sciences makes for less triumphalist melodrama, but much more convincing history."

- Michael H. Shank, University of Wisconsin–Madison - Renaissance Quarterly

"Renée Raphael's Reading Galileo: Scribal Technologies and the "Two New Sciences" gives a telling account of the reception of a seminal work of the Scientific Revolution, which has wider implications for the history of reading and of the nature of intellectual traditions at the time more generally."

- Michael Hunter, Birkbeck, University of London - American Historical Review
Johns Hopkins University Press
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