Stanford University

Mapping Galileo

  • Lead: Paula Findlen
  • Start Date: 2012
  • Team: Hannah Marcus (Harvard)
    Crystal Hall (Bowdoin)
    Kyle Lee-Crossett

This project uses the surviving correspondence of the mathematician and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) to map his social and intellectual networks. Thanks to a Stanford Humanities Center Undergraduate Research Assistantship in 2011-12, Kyle Lee-Crossett has been building a database of Galileo’s letters (from Antonio Favaro’s Edizione Nazionale delle Opere di Galileo Galilei) under the supervision of Paula Findlen and with the assistance of Hannah Marcus who has been working to enhance the database with additional information on individual correspondents.

Here are the two articles Findlen and Marcus published from this research: The breakdown of Galileo’s Roman network: Crisis and community, ca. 1633 and Deciphering Galileo: Communication and Secrecy before and after the Trial

Here is a book review by Findlen of two biographies on Galileo: Galileo’s Credo: Two new biographies differ over the astronomer’s view of the relationship between science and faith.

Here are links to key digital resources for studying Galileo: Museo Galileo

One of the interesting challenges of mapping Galileo’s networks regards the deliberate destruction of sensitive letters as a result of his trial and condemnation for his advocacy of Copernican astronomy in 1633, and the accidental loss of other letters after his death in 1642 when heirs did not carefully preserve this patrimony (they were infamously being used to wrap meat by a Florentine butcher when they were rediscovered in the eighteenth century!).

Number of letters sent by Galileo per year

Galileo's recipient pie chart

Red: Members of the Medici Court in Florence
Gold: Members of the Lincean Academy
Dark Blue: Colleagues and friends
Teal: Students and colleagues
Pink: Authors outside of Italy
Light Blue: Artists - helping to locate Galileo not just in science, but within larger culture and the arts

Calendar of Letters Sent to Destination City, 1610-1612

Calendar of Letters Sent to Destination City, 1610-1612

Red: Florence
Purple: Rome
Blue: Other Italian
Pink: Outside of Italy

Mr. Lee-Crossett made a preliminary presentation of his initial findings (up to 1616) at the SHC Undergraduate Research symposium in May 2012. We are now working with Humanities+Design to visualize how Galileo’s correspondence network changed at different stages of his life as we bring the database to completion in 2012-13. Our plan is to do a full analysis of Galileo’s surviving correspondence in light of the considerable scholarship on Galileo’s life and work. We will make the database publicly available when we feel it is at a point where we can invite others to use it and contribute to its enhancement.


Voltaire's Correspondence

View an instance of Ink loaded with Voltaire's correspondence. In combines mapped letters with a timeline stacked bar chart and a relationship viewer.

Voltaire's Publications

Mapping Voltaire's publications with data from the BNF.


Visit the laboratory web site to learn more about the visualizations.