Friday, 26 February 2016 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Michael H. Shank, University of Wisconsin

“Politics and Astrology in the Background of the Galileo Affair”

For many people, the Galileo Affair is the archetype for the relations of science and religion. This perception fairly represents the 1616 prohibition of Copernicus “until corrected,” but it makes little sense of the events leading to Galileo’s condemnation in 1633. To appreciate the reasons behind the trial and abjuration of Galileo, it is much more important to understand the intricacies of seventeenth-century Roman politics than the interpretation of Biblical verses about the Sun. The talk will emphasize in particular the messy interaction of astrology with papal and European politics as the crucial context in framing the negative reception of Galileo’s Dialogue.


Michael H. Shank received his Ph.D. in the History of Science (1983) from Harvard, where he taught (1983-87) before moving to Emory (1987-88) and then to the Department of the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1988-2015). He retired last July in order to complete several research projects. His primary research areas are in late-medieval astronomy, natural philosophy, and scientific printing (with a particular focus on the work of Johannes Regiomontanus). His book in progress on Galileo in the 1620s and ’30s in an outgrowth of his teaching. He coedited, with David Lindberg, the Cambridge History of Science, vol. 2: Medieval Science (2013). His latest articles is “Between Computation and Experiment: A History of Science of the Early University of Vienna,” in Heidrun Rosenberg and Michael Viktor Schwarz, eds., Wien 1365: Eine Universität Entsteht (Vienna: Christian Brandstätter Verlag, 2015), pp. 162–215.