Davide Martino (University of Cambridge)

The serie “Taliking About Science” of the EUI History of Science Working Group continues with a new presentation.

On Wednesday 16th June 2021, 15pm (CEST), Davide Martino (University of Cambridge) will present on the practical traditions of early modern hydraulic philosophy.  

‘Machina Augustana’ (Georg Loscher’s 1535 hydraulic machine at the Mauerberg, Augsburg).
Woodcut from G. Cardano, De subtilitate libri XXI (2nd edn; Basel: Ludovicus Lucius, 1554).
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (online).

In addition to physics, astronomy, and optics, Galileo and his disciples explored a wide variety of disciplines including hydraulics, the science of waters. The 1628 treatise by Benedetto Castelli, Della misura dell’acque correnti [Of the measure of running waters] has often been ‘considered to be the beginning of modern hydraulics’ (Drake 2008). Castelli, however, did not write in a void. Ancient Greek and Roman sources remained important reference points for him: he often dismissed the conclusions of one ancient authority only to endorse those of another. Furthermore, Castelli was indebted to the medieval tradition of hydraulic practice, which had introduced several machines unknown in antiquity. This paper will use a selection of late medieval and early modern machine books, both manuscript and printed, to illustrate this practical tradition, visually and technologically. By highlighting the continuities between these machine books and Castelli’s treatise, this paper will argue that the Galileans did not found a ‘new science’ of waters. Instead, they enriched, expanded, and reformed a large body of theoretical and practical knowledge which, by analogy with natural philosophy, ought to be known as hydraulic philosophy.

The seminar will be held in hybrid mode. Please register by contacting and

‘Thinking science at large’. Lecture by Philippe Descola, professor at the Collège de France. 04/05/2018

On friday 4th of may, at 11.00,  Prof. Philippe Descola, professor at the Collège de France, chair of Anthropology of Nature, will give a lecture entitled ‘Structuralism and Ontology: An Anthropological Journey’.

This encounter, part of our cycle of conferences ‘Thinking science at large’, will be a great opportunity to learn from this world-famous thinker. The morning lecture will be followed in the afternoon by a time of exchange with the researchers.

The and it would be possible for the researchers  to exchange with him during the afternoon. We are waiting for you.


‘Thinking sciences at large’: a new cycle of talks for 2018

Resuming the cycle of talks opened last year at the EUI by Pr. Stéphane Van Damme and the History of Science Working Group, we are pleased to present the program for this semesters’ “Thinking Science at Large – Towards a Connected History of Science”.

More details can be found on the EUI website.

This new cycle will open with Guillaume Lachenal (Paris-Diderot University) who will present on the 6th of February.

“Early Modern Collecting in Scandinavia” (22/11/17) – HoS’s first session for the new academic year !

For its first meeting of the new 2017-2018 academic year, the History of Science working group is proud to welcome Valdemar Grambye (visiting student, University of Southern Denmark). The session is organised in collaboration with the Intellectual History working group of the EUI, and will take place on November 22nd, 17.00, Sala degli Stemmi.
Valdemar will present his research project concerning the collections of private antiquarians between 1650 and 1750. By pointing to the networks to which these antiquarians belonged, he will claim that it is misleading to consider these antiquarians as amateurs working without systematic procedures. He will also say a few words on how his research relates to the history of science and the history of scholarship.
Come and join us !

#BSHSPG2017: Getting there

Getting to Florence

By train

Florence main station is called ‘Firenze Santa Maria Novella (SMN)’. For more information on trains, please see: From the station, the hotel is in walking distance or you might also take a bus. For further details, please go to Getting around in Florence (below).

By air

We suggest that you do not only look into flight connections to Florence airport but also into flights to/from Pisa airport, which has a direct coach connection to Florence centre (the journey takes about 60 minutes). It is also worth checking connections to Milan, Bologna or even Rome. From these cities (though not directly from their airports – you will have to take a bus going to the train station from where you continue your journey), the Italian train service operates direct connections to Florence main station called ‘Firenze Santa Maria Novella (SMN)’. For more information on trains, please see:

From Florence airport to Florence Station (SMN) 


The company Vola in Bus operates a bus service to Florence main station, Stazione Santa Maria Novella: The bus leaves every 30 minutes, the first bus in the morning is at 5.30; 6.00; 6.30 and so on.

From Pisa airport to Florence Station (SMN)

From Pisa airport, the company Autostradale ( operates a shuttle bus service. The journey from Pisa airport to Florence centre takes about 60-70 minutes. If you book online in advance and you show your printed ticket to the bus driver, you benefit from a discount. Roundtrips are €13.50 . You can also buy tickets on the bus/ticket office next to the bus.

The departure times are (please also check the website indicated above): The Autostradale bus leaves Pisa airport on 5 April at: 8.45; 9.30; 10.15; 11.00; 11.45; 12.15; 13.00; 13.45; 14.40; 15.30; 16.30…

The company Terravision no longer operates a bus service even though the website is still on. We strongly advise against booking your tickets with them.


From Pisa airport, there is no direct train connection to Florence. You can however, take a shuttle bus taking you to Pisa main station, from where you can take a direct train to Florence SMN. Trains leave every 20 to 30 minutes and take about 45 to 70 minutes (depending of type of train). Tickets  to Florence SMN (shutte + train) are sold directly at Pisa airport (€10.70), or you can take the shuttle (€1.20) and buy a train ticket to Florence SMN directly at Pisa Station (€8.40). NB the vendors at the airport charge a €1 fee for the train ticket.

Getting around in Florence

You prefer taking the bus 

Bus tickets are €1.20 if you buy them at a kiosk/tabacchi shop or café or €2.00 if you purchase them directly on the bus. Please always carry a little change with you: the bus drivers do not have change. You can also purchase a 4-trip ticket (€4.70), for instance, which you might need anyway because we will take the bus to travel between the conference venue and the city centre. Please remember to validate your bus ticket on the bus (there are machines/little validation boxes) as controls are frequent.

The central railway station Santa Maria Novella (SMN), where also all buses arrive, is a 20 minutes walk away from your hotel and we recommend that you actually walk. Buses can be a hassle, sometimes chaotic, and it’s really easy to walk to the hotel.

You can get on the bus number 17 to ‘Verga’ from ‘Stazione Valfonda’ (the stop is right on the left when you leave the station, right after the McDonald’s restaurant) and get off at ‘Venezia’, just in front of Hotel La Pace.

You can get on the bus number 11 to ‘Salviatino’ from ‘Largo Alinari’ bus stop across the road and get of at Venezia.

You can also get on bus number 14 to ‘Il Girone’, or 23 to ‘Nave a Rovezzano’ from ‘Stazione Valfonda’ and get off at ‘Piazza San Marco’. The hotel is a just a short walk from the piazza.

Ultimately, you can get on number 6, from bus stop ‘Largo Alinari’ and get off at ‘Piazza San Marco’.

Please also check the Florence public transport website with the buses’ departure times (though not always reliable…): In general, it is better to be at the bus stop a little prior to the actual departure time (so you might catch the previous bus that runs late 🙂 ). Rather plan a little extra time in Florence so that you don’t have to stress out. You can also get real time schedule by uploading the ATAF app.

See map below for bus stop locations.

Should you prefer to walk

Please consult the following link, which will indicate your way on google maps from SMN station to your hotel: Walk to hotel. (Please klick on the walking sign on google maps!)

Under the headline Venue, we indicate how you reach our venue Villa Salviati from your hotel. Villa Salviati campus is north of the city centre and a 15 minutes bus ride away.


The BSHS will subsidise accommodation by 50 %. We have already pre-booked spacious twin rooms – which you will share with a colleague – for 2 nights (5-7 April) in the Hotel ‘La Pace’ ( For the two nights, the total costs for each of you will be €56. We are currently looking into payment possibilities and will provide more information asap. If you prefer a single room – and unless you have done so already – please get in touch with us immediately. If you wish to share your twin room with a friend who is also a confirmed conference delegate, you will be asked to indicate it in the attached form.

The room rates are per night and per person:
Twin (shared): €28 with BSHS subsidy
Single: €66 with BSHS subsidy


The conference will take place at the EUI’s campus of Villa Salviati (, which can be reached by bus number 25 to ‘Pratolino / Pian di San Bartolo’: Bus number 25 (stop ‘Venezia’) is just outside Hotel La Pace. The bus runs every 15 minutes and takes about 15 minutes to reach the appropriate bus stop (‘Il Cionfo 01’). Villa Salviati is quite big and we will make sure that there will be signs.

Please also see the Florence public transport website with the buses’ departure times (though not always reliable…): So in general, it’s better to be at the bus stop a little prior to the actual departure time (so you might catch the previous bus that runs late 🙂 ).You can also get real time schedule by uploading the ATAF app.

Call for participation: Seeing and Describing the Earth: Geographical Knowledge in Context

Call for participation:

Seeing and Describing the Earth: Geographical Knowledge in Context

Workshop organised by the History of Science Working Group

Date: Wednesday 22nd February 2017, 15:00-18:00

Geographical knowledge is hard to define and delimit. As a concept itself, it has evolved over different historical periods and in relationship to different contexts and issues experienced by various actors. J. B. Harley stressed the importance of taking into consideration the layers of mediation standing between the map-reader and the territory. This deconstructivist approach towards maps has become a general tendency among historians of geographical knowledge.

Yet this perspective has to be extended to other approaches in order to situate the history of cartography within a broader framework, namely the history of the relationships between human beings and the world they inhabit. Jean-Marc Besse book’s Voir la Terre (2000) addresses the same question: does the human existence need both a spatial and a temporal framework? How can these two parameters interact? This is the central issue this workshop wants to address, by reflecting on the links between history and geography, and trying to break through artificial disciplinary borders in order to give a more complex understanding of both history and geography.

This workshop intends to  explore the following themes:

1)Understanding, Constructing and Disseminating Knowledge about the Natural World

How can we conceptualize geographical knowledge and understandings of the world in the light of recent anthropological studies challengeing Euro-centric views of the world? New decentered views among researchers encourage us to reconsider different ways of understanding the Earth, mainly through the study of other systems but also history of intellectual practices, stressing the constructed and situated aspect of geographical knowledge. Sensory engagements with the natural world, as well as physical and human interaction with it, will help us to understand the construction of geographical knowledge.

2)Structuring Space

What role do institutions (learned societies, academies, universities, private associations, publishers etc.) play in inscribing the geographical world with meanings and in establishing norms of seeing, ordering and classifying the geographical world? How can we understand the relationship between exercising interpretative power and territorial claims of geographical spaces? The workshop aims to provide a forum for researchers working on different periods and areas of the globe to discuss the production and circulation of geographical knowledge in different contexts.

3)Materiality of Geographical Knowledge

In the literature in recent years, there has been a shift from focusing on geographical discourses, to a return to thinking about the materiality of our interactions with the natural world. Different medium and genres for constructing and representing geographical knowledge – such as museum displays, books, maps, globes, artwork, travelogues etc. – arise out of different historical actors’ sensual and emotional engagement with their surroundings. How does the use of a particular medium to communicate knowledge affect and shape cognitive understandings of the geographical world?

We invite short 10 minute presentations engaging with how geographical knowledge is collected, constructed, represented and communicated, as well as theoretical or methodological reflections on the relationship between history and geography. We would like to emphasise that this workshop is intended as a space to air ideas and get feedback on your work-in-progress.

Please send the title of your presentation and a short abstract to Catherine Gibson and Martin Vailly by Friday 3rd February.

EUI History of Science: Spring/Summer Calendar

Thinking Sciences at large: Towards a Connected History of Sciences

Convenor: Stéphane Van Damme

In collaboration with the Working Group in History of Science

– 6 February: Dagmar Schäfer (Max Planck Institute, Berlin): ‘Ming China disintegrated. The chances and pitfalls of the global view’

-9 February: Antonella Romano (EHESS, Paris): ‘Putting the globe in print: a 16th century European perspective, its processes, actors and challenges’

-14-15 February: Bruno Latour (SciencesPo, Paris), ‘Political organization in the New Climatic Regime’.

– 16 February: Workshop with Bruno Latour (SciencesPo, Paris), 11h-13h, Sala di Levieri, Villa Salviati

– 22 February: Seeing and Describing the Earth: Geographical Knowledge in Context. Workshop organised by the History of Science Working Group

– 23 February: Paolo Galuzzi (Director of the Museo Galileo)

-13 March: Bert de Munck (University of Antwerp): ‘Useful knowledge and the urban imaginary: a contested history’

– Last week of March, date tbc.: Aina Palarea Marimon (EUI, HEC 1) ‘Transmission of the Technical Knowledge in the Late Middle Ages’

-30 May: Hélène Miallet (York University, Canada): ‘The thinking person disease: Rethinking the subject in the digital age’

-22 June: Jessica Riskin (Stanford University): ‘Restless Clock’

-26 June: Forum on Hans Sloane with James Delbourgo (Rutgers University) and Simon Schaffer (Cambridge University)


Lists are often treated as a ‘matter-of-fact, unrhetorical, and innocent’ source by historians (Delbourgo & Müller-Wille 2012, 711). At the same time, they can be daunting to work with because of the sheer volume of information they contain: inventories and census data often run to many hundreds or even thousands of pages. Taking as our inspiration the 2012 special issue on “Listmania” in Isis: A Journal of the History of Science Society, in the November meeting of the EUI History of Science Working Group, we explored some of the ways in which we might begin to tackle lists as a historical source.


EUI History of Science Working Group. Photo courtesy of Déborah Dubald @_dbrh_ 


Bringing Ethnographic Lists and Maps Together

At the outset of my research on ethnographic cartography in the Russian Empire, I was reluctant to focus too heavily on statistical data. Not only has this topic already been extensively researched, but I was also more interested in the spatial definition of ethnographic areas rather than the quantitative numeration the Empire’s inhabitants. However, as my research developed, I became increasingly aware that list-making was closely intertwined with map-making in fascinating ways.

Firstly, the data used to make ethnographic maps was taken from lists and tables compiled as a result of fieldwork expeditions, local censuses, and provincial statistical data books (памятная книжка). The job of the cartographers, who I was focusing on in my research, was to translate this statistical demographic data into a graphical and cartographical medium.

Secondly, on a deeper level, lists and maps have in common that they communicate information based on a two-dimensional spatial logic. In lists and tables, words, or numbers are placed on the page in vertical columns and horizontal rows. On maps, coordinate points are plotted along the x- and y- axes. So, in addition to studying the maps themselves, I became increasingly interested in thinking about the similarities between list-making and map-making as ways of communicating ideas about ethnographic classification.


Statistical Tables

Not all cartographers went on fieldwork expeditions themselves and most relied instead on statistical data gathered from other sources, such as the provincial statistical commissions. This data was presented and circulated in the form of tables, which generally followed a similar format: ethnographic groups were listed horizontally across the page as column headings and provinces, districts, or parishes (depending on the scale of the statistical study) were listed vertically down the page as row headings. The number of inhabitants pertaining to each ethnographic group was listed for each locality. In this way, an overview of the ethnographic composition of the population of all “European Russia” could be synthesised onto a single sheet of paper.


Petr Keppen, Ob” etnograficheskoi karte evropeiskoi rossii. (St Petersburg: Izdannoi imperatorskim” russkim” geograficheskim” obschestvom”, 1852). Reproduced with permission from the National Library of Finland, Helsinki.


Ethnographic Taxonomies

Ethnographers worked with the same statistical data tables, however they were more interested in schematising the information to say something about the relationships between the ethnographic groups lists in row or column headings. Curly brackets (or braces) were often used to indicate that groups were part of a single ethnographic “family”. This technique also allowed ethnographers to create hierarchies by portraying branches and nesting sub-groups.


Petr Keppen, Ob” etnograficheskoi karte evropeiskoi rossii. (St Petersburg: Izdannoi imperatorskim” russkim” geograficheskim” obschestvom”, 1852). Reproduced with permission from the National Library of Finland, Helsinki.


Legends: Another Kind of List?

Map legends often closely resembled taxonomic lists in the way that they arranged information about the ethnographic groups depicted in vertical columns. Some maps, such as Aleksandr Rittikh’s Ethnographic Map of European Russia (1875), even incorporated curly brackets into the legend to sort the ethnographic groups into “families”. Compiling a map legend, however, also took the taxonomisation process a step further by assigning a corresponding colour to each ethnographic group. Ethnographic groups perceived as being close kins to one another, were rendered in similar shades of a single colour. Differences between the various ethnographic families were emphasised using contrasting colours.


Aleksandr Rittikh, Etnograficheskaia karta evropeiskoi rossii. (St Petersburg, 1875). Reproduced with permission from the National Library of Finland, Helsinki


Lost (and Gained) in Translation

As in every translation process, some aspects of the statistical and ethnographic lists were “lost” in the transformation of the data into a cartographical medium. For example, ethnographic maps in the mid-nineteenth century mostly did not convey any information about the relative numbers of inhabitants belonging to each ethnographic group or population density. Moreover, itinerant or nomadic populations who had no sizeable or fixed area of permanent habitation often simply disappeared. Instead, these choropleth maps converted the information contained in each row of the data table into a flat, enclosed, and homogeneous block of colour.

At the same time, cartography was not simply a method for graphically visualising the information contained in a statistical list, but also played a significant role in shaping the ideas about population categorisation. As Georg von Mayr (1841-1925), a statistician and professor of statistics at the University of Munich, observed: ‘The map differs significantly from the diagram, in that it contains not merely a sensual illustration of the table provided as evidence, but also something new that the table cannot represent’ (Mayr 1874: 15). By using graphical techniques such as shading, lines and chromatics, maps could make powerful statements about the distribution and borders between ethnographic groups, as well as the nature of their relationship to one another.


Aleksandr Rittikh, Etnograficheskaia karta evropeiskoi rossii. (St Petersburg, 1875). Reproduced with permission from the National Library of Finland, Helsinki.

Thank you to Déborah Dubald for the opportunity to collaborate in putting together this session of the EUI History of Science Working Group and to think about my research from a new perspective.

Catherine Gibson

Researcher, European University Institute

For more information about Catherine’s current research on ethnographic maps, see


Delbourgo, James and Staffan Müller-Wille. “Introduction.” Isis 103:4 (2012), 710-715

Mayr, G. von. Gutachten über die Anwendung der graphischen und geographischen Methode in der Statistik. Munich: gedruckt bei J. Gotteswinter, 1874.

‘Chasing Unicorns and Amassing Rhinos to Think About the History of Knowledge’

Unicorn (Monoceros). Conrad Gesner, Historiae Animalium; liber primus, qui est de quadrupedibus viviparis, Zurich, 1551. retrieved from

Do not miss our next session on: 

‘Chasing Unicorns and Amassing Rhinos to Think About the History of Knowledge’
with Bruno A Martinho (HEC3) & Camille Sallé (HEC1)

Monday 5/12/2016, 17:00-19:00
Location: Sala dei Levrieri, Villa Salviati, European University Institute, Florence

How do historians of knowledge and science deal with materials? And what do materials do to the history of knowledge? Reversely, how are notions of science and knowledge approached by historians of material culture? This session will be centred on a case study presented by Bruno A. Martinho, and will aim at opening the discussion on these questions and some methodological issues encountered when approaching material culture. Especially, we will examine the extent to which those questions related to material culture and materiality can bring together and blur the lines between various fields of history. We will consider the possibility of thinking outside categories produced by material culturel/history of science approaches, as well as more powerful questionnaires obtained from crossed methodologies.



List of toponyms from the fieldwork notebook of Ia. Kuznetsov, 1896. Archives of the Russian Geographical Society, St Petersburg. F11, ap.1, no.4.
List of toponyms from the fieldwork notebook of Ia. Kuznetsov, 1896. Archives of the Russian Geographical Society, St Petersburg. F11, ap.1, no.4.

The EUIHoS is pleased to invite you to its next meeting:


Whether they group plants, stuffed animals, or potential tax payers, lists are often a deceptively simple source for historians and can be daunting to manipulate. For this session, Catherine Gibson and Déborah Dubald will share their experience and issues encountered with ethnographic lists and museums’ inventories of natural objects in the nineteenth-century. Leaning on some case studies and one very short reading, this month’s session will try to explore the cognitive and social effects of list-making in the sciences. Looking at the wide range of practices of list-making and the conditions of its materialisation, we will try to think of ways to use lists efficiently to build a bigger story.
Time & venue:  14 November 2016 at 17:00Sala dei Levrieri, Villa Salviati, Via Bolognese 156, 50139 Florence, Italy
The session will be followed by a dinner at Antica Badia. Please register with Catherine Gibson if you would like to join us!
Delbourgo James & Müller-Wille Staffan, “Listmania” (Introduction), Isis, 2012, vol. 103, no 4, pp. 710‑715. Available from the EUI Library.
To attend the event or for further information please contact Catherine Gibson.