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Borelli Galaxy. Visualizing Galileo's Heritage (1635-1700 ca.)

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - BorGal (Borelli Galaxy. Visualizing Galileo's Heritage (1635-1700 ca.))

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2021-08-31

BorGal results from a collaboration between La Sapienza the University of Rome and Stanford University, with the research support of CESTA, the Stanford Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis. BorGal succeeded in drawing a complete digital catalogue of the scattered correspondence of the Italian physiologist, physicist, and mathematician Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1608-1679) and in reconstructing his overlapping social, intellectual, and political networks. A total amount of 668 letters, 641 persons, 229 books have been catalogued and coded. This data will be open accessible and reusable on the project website ( where scholars will be able to visualize the correspondence’s flows on Borelli’s network of networks, as well as to address specific topics applying digital humanities and historical network research tools.
Borelli was a leading figure among the natural philosophers belonging to the 'Galileo's school' and the preeminent figure of the Accademia del Cimento in Florence. He was the only one of his generation to adapt Galileo’s methodology – that is experimental practice along with a mechanistic and geometrical epistemic model – to the different branches of scientific research; like Galileo’s, his experimentalism was based on a strong theoretical and even ‘ideological’ approach. His life and work show that Galileo’s (disputed) legacy was not only a Tuscan heritage and that the 17th century Italian scientific ‘Republic of Letters’ was a whole, complex and intertwined community, that included also the alleged ’peripheral’ Spanish Sicily. Moreover, Borelli’s freedom of thought about Nature coupled with his standing for political dissent (he was among the ideologues of the Messina Revolt of 1674-78). This coincidence makes him a unique case to investigate the relation between science, religion, and politics in the Catholic South of Early Modern Europe. Assuming a relational perspective and taking advantage of digital tools, we provided scholars and the public with the data and the digital tools to map, chart, 'heuristically' visualize the multi-layered and spatial dimensions of 'Borelli's galaxy' (places, people, works, letters, instruments, objects, information…), as well as to experience the way 'Galileo's heritage' took shape while circulating across the ‘Republic of Letters’.
Most of the milestones and deliverables were achieved on schedule. Few tasks were accomplished with relatively minor deviations, mostly due to force majeure (COVID19 pandemic). We have been pursuing our overall objective: by gathering a complete catalogue of Borelli’s extant correspondence (published, unpublished, reported, newly found etc.); by filing and coding the letters as well as the data in the letters through a data-modeling set up on purpose within the Nodegoat web-environment; by setting-up a public user interface openly accessible via the project website (within 6 months) that allows users to explore the data-sets through relational modes of analysis, with spatial and chronological forms of visual contextualization.
The results from this project have been disseminated in several ways, including at conferences, through networking events, through ongoing collaborations. Overall, Dr Favino has become significantly more skilled throughout the duration of the outgoing phase, gaining experience in the digital humanities, in teaching, In research project management, in intellectual property right and copyright management, in gender issues. Once back in Italy, she had several opportunities to transfer the knowledge acquired in the outgoing phase at Stanford University, to Sapienza University. the BorGal Project has had a tremendous impact on her academic career, providing her with a tenure track in her home Country.
BorGal has - and will continue to have - a significant impact on the revival of the studies dedicated to Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, our final goal. The interest of colleagues and scholars in the man and his work has been continuously stimulated through periodical workshops and conferences that offered opportunities for reopening research dossiers. Overall, the workshops involved 20 speakers, who examined or re-examined different aspects of Borelli’s work and different moments of his career. These first-rate contributions were meant to be inspiring for the audience, often made up of junior scholars. Dr Favino has presented on several occasions the results of the ongoing research, advertising the BorGal catalogue and relational database among the scientific community. The data generated by the BorGal consortium (shortly openly accessible and reusable) will certainly give further stimulus to the studies on Borelli, on the social structure of his networks, on the social and intellectual configuration of ‘Galileo’s school’, on the dynamics of scholarly communication within the 'Republic of Letters', on the mobility of men, books, and scientific objects, on the working conditions of mathematicians in the early modern age, etc. More broadly, the data generated by BorGal will be extremely helpful for historians of Early modern science, ideas, society, politics, book market, cultural behaviours, art etc.
Social representation of Borelli's network [partial]
Map of Borelli's Letters' Exchange (1636-1678) [partial]