Friday, 15 September 2017 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316
Bruce Hunt, UT
“Reliquiae Scientiae, or Reflections on Galileo’s Finger Bones”
On the second floor of the Galileo Museum in Florence, amid arrays of armillary spheres, telescopes, and other historic scientific instruments, one encounters a display case holding several of Galileo’s finger bones. A glass and marble reliquary holds the bones of the middle finger of his right hand, while one made of glass and wood holds the bones of his thumb and index finger, along with a single tooth. How did these bones come to be there? What are we to make of them? To what extent should we compare them to the relics of Christian saints that are displayed in so many Italian churches, and how are they related to the remains of other scientists that have been preserved for veneration or for study? The story of Galileo’s finger bones is an intriguing one, with many odd twists, and as we shall see, it also raises some deeper questions about attitudes toward scientists and their bodily remains.
Bruce Hunt has taught courses in the history of science and technology at UT for many years. Most of his research focuses on telegraphy and electrical physics in 19th century Britain, but he also has a strong interest in the life and work of Galileo. This past June he got a chance to visit various Galileo-related sites in Padua, Florence, and Rome, and this fall he is again teaching an undergraduate seminar on “the Galileo affair.”