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

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BorGal (Borelli Galaxy. Visualizing Galileo's Heritage (1635-1700 ca.))

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-08-31

BorGal focuses on the Italian physiologist, physicist, and mathematician Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1608-1679), a leading figure among the natural philosophers belonging to 'Galileo's school'. 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. Borelli’s life and work shows 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 (but how?) the alleged ’peripheral’ Spanish Sicily. Moreover, Borelli’s freedom of thought about Nature coupled with his standing for political dissent. This coincidence makes him a unique case to investigate the relation between science, religion and politics in the Catholic South of Early Modern Europe. Despite his unquestionable value, Borelli has never been the object of a monographic research. BorGal aims at emphasising Borelli’s role in the making of European scientific thought and community, by taking advantage of his scattered and still underestimated correspondence. Assuming a relational perspective and taking advantage of digital tools, we aim to map, chart, 'heuristically' visualise and provide open access for scholars and the general public to the multi-layered and spatial dimensions of 'Borelli's galaxy' (places, people, works, letters, instruments, objects, information…), as well as to the way 'Galileo's heritage' took shape while circulating across the ‘Republic of Letters’.
For the outgoing phase of the project, Dr Favino was based at the History Department of the University of Stanford, for 24 months, under the primary supervision of Prof. Paula Findlen. BorGal has also been taking advantage of infrastructure, research support, and intellectual community of CESTA, the Stanford Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis. Milestones and deliverables for work packages 1 were accomplished on schedule. WP 2 and 3 were accomplished with relatively minor deviations, mostly due to force majeure (COVID19 pandemic). Complying with the DoA, we have been working at a thorough survey of the available material — published, still manuscript and on-line letters from and to Borelli — drawing up the first overall list of Borelli’s epistolary. We have also been designing, modelling and building a relational database in a web-environment (Nodegoat, by Lab1100), where we have been working at storing metadata on the collected letters and at digitally describing the data mentioned in the letters and related to the 'objects' (places, people, works, letters, instruments, objects, information ...) that populated the ‘Borelli Galaxy’. The metadata in our relational database are step by step engendering the requested union catalogue of Borelli’s correspondence; the dynamic web-environment that hosts our data allows us (and the general public in the future) to instantly process, analyse and visualise them relationally, diachronically and spatially.
The results from this project have been disseminated in a number of 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 knowledge transfer and scientific communication, in gender issues.
Further progresses beyond the state of the art resulted from collecting the first complete list of Borelli’s epistolary: to eliminate duplicates, to locate manuscripts that were believed to be lost, to trace the letter’s displacement through time and space. Moreover, the BorGal relational database under construction on the Nodegoat web-environment, is a work in progress that promises to be a completely new and original tool for the Research on the Early Modern social history of science and ideas: a dynamic Union Catalogue of letters that works at a time as a database and as a dynamic tool to instantly process, analyse and visualise our complex datasets relationally, diachronically and spatially. According to the budget, we will make BorGal data available also through a public user interface on our website. BorGal happened to be the first in a series of new projects with a strong digital component, dedicated to different ‘second-generation Galileans’, that is to disciples of Galileo’s disciples, like Borelli. All these projects are currently producing open-access and interoperable data that, when will be merged, will multiply the size and density of the network connecting the ‘new’ natural philosophers within the framework of the ‘Republic of Letters’. Data that we are detecting from Borelli’s epistolary will be extremely helpful for historians of Early modern science, ideas, society, politics, book market, cultural behaviours, art etc. Since we are considering even ‘phantom letters’ (that is no more extant cross-referenced letters), it will also be a useful instrument for archivists, librarians and all those professionals involved in the management of European cultural heritage.