My research investigates how the interactions between humans and artifacts shaped the production of natural knowledge in the early modern period. My approach brings together the history of science with the history of technology and the history of medicine, as well as more broadly, cultural and economic history, art history, social studies of science and technology, and studies in material culture.
By exploring the relationship between humans, artifacts and natural knowledge, I seek to understand the ways in which this relationship shaped or challenged perceived boundaries between the natural and the artificial, the hand and the mind, knowing and making, science and industry, individual profit and public utility. I am also interested in the role of artifacts in the articulation of Enlightenment epistemic categories (such as natural order, the “normal” body, human progress), as well as in the scientific, commercial, political, and social networks that scientific and technical artifacts created.
I have published widely on the involvement of the human body in electrical experiments, on collecting and museums, on the public culture of science, as well as on industrial espionage and secrecy. My first book focuses on scientific culture, particularly electrical experimentation, in 18th-century Italy, Viaggio nel paese delle meraviglie. Scienza e curiosità nell’Italia del Settecento, (“A Journey in the land of marvels: Science and curiosity in 18th-century Italy”, 2007). I also co-edited a volume on the history of the medical applications of electricity (Electric Bodies. Episodes in the history of medical electricity, 2001).
My second book, Artisanal Enlightenment: Science and the Mechanical Arts in Old Regime France (Yale University Press, 2017), argues for the centrality of the mechanical arts and the world of making in the Enlightenment. With a radical shift of historical actors, it brings to the forefront the figure of the artiste, a learned artisan who defined himself in contrast to philosophers, savants, and routine-bound craftsmen. Artisanal Enlightenment was awarded the 2019 Louis Gottschalk prize for best book in eighteenth-century studies by the American Society for Eihteenth-Century Studies.
I have been active in bringing the history of science to the broader public. Betweeen 2004 and 2007 I collaborated on the renovation of the Museum of the History of Science in Florence, now Galileo Museum, where I curated two permanent galleries: The Spectacle of Science and Science at Home. I am currently working on the first History of Science and Technology Gallery at the Peabody Museum (to open in 2023). At Yale, I teach courses on The Scientific Revolution, The Art and Science of the Body, Collecting Nature and Art, History and Material Culture.
My work has been acknowledged with the 2019 Louis Gottschalk prize for best book in eighteenth-century studies, the 2016 Margaret W. Rossiter Prize for best article on the history of women in science awarded by the History of Science Society, and the 2015 Clifford Prize for best article in 18th-century studies awarded by the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies. In 2012 I received the Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching from Yale College.
Artisanal Enlightenment: Science and the Mechanical Arts in Old Regime France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017). 2019 Louis Gottschalk Prize for best book on eighteenth-century studies, awarded by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Second-prize winner, 2018 John Pickstone prize for best scholarly book in history of science and medicine, awarded every two years by the British Society for the History of Science. Finalist, Kenshur Prize for best book in 18th-century interdisciplinary studies. Shortlist, Pfizer Award for best book in the history of science in a three year period, awarded by the History of Science Society.
Viaggio nel paese delle meraviglie. Scienza e curiosità nell’Italia del Settecento [A Journey in Wonderland. Science and Curiosity in Eighteenth-Century Italy]. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 2007
Electric Bodies. Episodes in the History of Medical Electricity (co-edited with Giuliano Pancaldi), Bologna: CIS, University of Bologna, 2001
Articles or book chapters:
“The In/visible Woman: Mariangela Ardinghelli (1730-1824) and the circulation of natural knowledge between Paris and Naples”, Isis 104(2013): 226-49 (winner of the Margaret Rossiter Prize for best article on the history of women in science published in the previous four years, awarded by the History of Science Society)
“The architecture of knowledge: Science, collecting and display in 18th-century Naples”, in Helen Hills, Melissa Calaresu (eds.), New Approaches to Neapolitan Culture c. 1500-1800: The power of place, Aldershot: Ashgate
“Designing the house of knowledge in 18th-century Naples; the ephemeral museum of Ferdinando Spinelli, Prince of Tarsia”, in Jim Bennett, Sofia Talas (eds), Makin Science Public in the Eighteenth Century: The role of Cabinets of Experimental Philosophy. Brill (2013)
“The spectacle of science”, in Filippo Camerota ed., Galileo Museum. Masterpieces of science Florence, 2010
“Science in the Domestic Sphere”, Filippo Camerota ed., Galileo Museum, Masterpieces of science, Florence, 2010
“Les Leçons de physique expérimentale de l’abbé Nollet” in Sciences et curiosités à la Cour de Versailles, Châteaude de Versailles, 2010
“Enlightening Towers: Public Opinion, Local Authorities and the Reformation of Meterology in Eighteenth Century Italy,” in Playing with Fire: The Cultural History of the Lightning Rod, P. Heering, O. Hochadel, D. Rhees (eds.), Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 2009.
“Domestic Spectacles: electrical demonstrations between business and conversation”, in Christine Blondel, Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent (eds.), Science and Spectacle in the European Enlightenment, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008
“Therapeutic attractions: early applications of electricity to the art of healing” in H.A. Whitaker, C.U.M. Smith, S. Finger (eds) Brain, Mind and Medicine: Essays in Eighteenth-Century Neuroscience, Boton: Springer, pp. 271-84, 2007
“Sparks in the dark: the attraction of electricity in the eighteenth century”, Endeavour, 31 (2007), 88-93
“Revealing sparks: John Wesley and the religious utility of electrical healing”, British Journal for the History of Science, 39 (2006), 341-62
“Back from Wonderland: Jean Antoine Nollet’s Italian Tour (1749)”, in L. Evans, A. Marr (eds.), Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, Aldeshot: Ashgate, pp. 193-211, 2006
“Public utility and spectacular display: the Physics Cabinet of the Royal Museum in Florence”, Nuncius, 21 (2006), 323-36
“Sparking Controversy: Jean Antoine Nollet and Medical Electricity South of the Alps”, Nuncius, 20 (2005), 153-187
“Promethean Sparks: Electricity and the order of nature in the eighteenth century”, in S. Zielinski, S. Wagnermaier (eds.), Variantology1. Diverse Historical Approaches Towards an Archaeology of Media, Technology and the Arts, Cologne: Walther Konig, 2005
“A philosophical business, Edward Nairne and the Patent Medical Electrical Machine (1782)”, History of Technology, 23 (2001), 41-58
“The electrical body of knowledge: medical electricity and experimental philosophy in the mid-eighteenth century”, in P. Bertucci, G. Pancaldi (eds.), Electric Bodies. Episodes in the history of medical electricity, Bologna: CIS, Dipartimento di Filosofia, 2001
D.Phil, University of Oxford
M.Sc in “History of Science: Instruments, Museums, Science, Technology”, University of Oxford
Laurea (B.Sc) summa cum laude in Physics, Department of Physics, University of Bologna