[PRIN 2017] Material and visual culture of science: a longue durée perspective


Coordinator - Prof. Marco Beretta


During the past few decades, history of science as a discipline has undergone a radical transformation in terms of methods, sources, perspectives, and purposes. Today it is characterized by a vast plurality of interests and approaches that meet, and sometimes clash, in a highly internationalized and diverse context. Within this metamorphosis of history of science as a discipline, one of the most significant phenomena is represented by the “iconic turn”, followed by the so-called “material turn”, an attention to concrete objects, seen as shaped by, and carriers of, epistemic values and meaning. This new perspective on the history of the sciences has mainly been developed in the historiography coming from English-speaking countries. In Italy, however, the attention for material history, not to say for the visual, has never been lacking, even if has been kept at the margins by the preponderance of a scientific historiography mainly of philosophical coinage and obedience. One of the novelties of the history of the sciences, on the contrary, is in the attention paid to creation, circulation and appreciation of scientific information in wider networks or communities, where the learned level of information often encountered and intersected a down-to-earth, basic work of collecting and organizing knowledge.

The project will address two main research lines, focusing respectively on (a) visual and (b) material cultures. In particular, it will address the function and use of scientific illustrations in self-fashioning or fashioning of scientific personae, e.g. through portraits, representations, egodocuments –and stereotypes; the uses of scientific images at the crossroads of science and other beliefs/knowledge: science and religion, science and the arts. As to material objects, it will deal with coulours as material substances and their 'stories'; the environment as a laboratory; the interaction between field research and the creation of new disciplines and the wider circulation of scientific information; the study of bodies, and of their models or parts, as scientific objects; the history and preservation of scientific instruments, in collections and/or single specimens, with a special reference to chemistry. The case studies the teams propose to research will arguably allow to discuss, in general if not downright theoretical terms, the new and exciting perspectives in the history of the sciences. Taking into account the already existing Italian contribution to this style of research, the project aims at a new foundation of the history of the sciences in our cultural area and zone. We do not aim at a passive reception of discussions and styles of research which were born elsewhere. On the contrary, we aim at showing, through a very diverse and multiple array of cases, how the rich, informed, and empirically minded tradition of historical research in our country and language(s) (Latin included), can determine a useful turn in the way visual and material are defined and used in the history of the sciences. The strength of the project lies in the interaction between science historians with a diversity of backgrounds, and working on different chronologies and with different geographical focuses, with a special attention to Italy and its traditions. Our chronology is in fact purposely a 'long' one, moving from antiquity to the 20th century. The variety of cases addressed by the research teams will enable to shed new light on crucial questions, such as how scientific personae were construed form the point of view of iconography, as well as the close connection and interplay between visual and artistic tradition and scientific knowledge. Moreover, by taking into account material elements and social and economical issues, the project will help fostering a new and more complex vision of topics hitherto mainly considered in the light of simplistic theoretical classifications and notions. In view of the wealth of collections of scientific instruments, models and kept in a substantial number of Italian public and private institutions, the project aims at exploring their potentialites and the way they could be used in order to foster a better appreciation of scientific life and practice and of its social and politicalmeaning


36 mesi


Università di PISA
Università degli Studi INSUBRIA Varese-Como
Università degli Studi di CAGLIARI


Euro 402.000 dal MIUR

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