The Italian Society for the History of Science / Società Italiana di Storia della Scienza (SISS) is pleased to announce a new Seminar Series:

SISS Meets Early Careers

The series is conceived as an informal place for early career scholars to discuss their research, present, future and past. Each session focuses on broad themes in the history of science and knowledge, bringing together diverse approaches, methodologies and chronologies. The series is open to international scholars and broad collaboration between disciplinary fields.

All seminars are held online on Zoom:

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Organizer of the first series: Dr Lavinia Maddaluno (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice).

2nd April 2024, 5-6.30pm (CET)

Assessment and Validation

Chair: Elena Canadelli (University of Padova, SISS President)

Armel Cornu (Uppsala University), Chemistry and the Mapping of Mineral Water Resources in Eighteenth-century France.

Rebecca Jackson (MPIWG, Berlin), “The Uncertain Method of Drops”: How a Non-uniform Fluid Unit Survived the Century of Standardization


30th April 2024, 5-7pm (CET)

Labour, Technologies and Gender

Chairs: Lavinia Maddaluno (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice), Violeta Ruiz (CSIC- Institució Milà i Funtanals, Barcelona)

Andreas Lingg (University of Witten/Herdecke), “Sola civium industria”: on Ideas of Productivity and Craftsmanship in 16th century Nuremberg

Gabriele Marcon (Warburg Institute/Villa I Tatti), Hidden Figures? Women’s Work in Early Modern Mining

Eóin Philipps (La Salle - Ramon Llull University, Barcelona), “They’ve the Concrete Master Race to keep you in your Place”: Canals, Work and the Canal System in the Imperial Meridian.


Abstracts and bios:

Armel Cornu (Uppsala University), Chemistry and the Mapping of Mineral Water Resources in Eighteenth-century France.

Mineral waters became increasingly popular remedies in early modern France. Attendance to spa towns rose drastically and a large selection of bottled mineral springs could be found for sale in apothecary shops all over the kingdom. Facing the popularity of this new market and frequent mineral water spring discoveries, the French medical authorities searched for a reliable way to assess the quality of mineral waters, and to establish a definitive map of the kingdom’s mineral water resources. By the late seventeenth century, chemical analysis had become an accepted method of investigating mineral waters. Between 1670 and 1779, different versions of a plan to analyse all French waters were put into place. All of them argued for the importance of chemistry in providing data on mineral waters, and all claimed that they would result in a reliable map of the French springs. Despite numerous failures, the plans of analysing all French waters would eventually find some form of success in the collaborative work of the Société de Médecine at the end of the century. These efforts were motivated by a variety of interests, from economic incentives to public health. Regulators hoped that being able to appraise minerals waters and obtain knowledge of their composition would present a solid base on which to ground their legislative efforts. Using the empirical data provided by these various mapping efforts, this presentation shows the mechanisms through which chemistry was implemented as a crucial field of knowledge within the realm of mineral water prospecting.

Bio: Armel Cornu is a historian of science specializing in the French Enlightenment. Her work is characterized by a social, economic, and sensorial approach to the study of chemistry, medicine, and metallurgy. She graduated with a PhD from Uppsala University in 2022, and has since completed a year as postdoctoral fellow at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia. Her current research project based at Paris Cité and Uppsala University investigates the relationship between Swedish copper, the chemistry of metals, and the French Atlantic trade.

Rebecca Jackson (MPIWG, Berlin), “The Uncertain Method of Drops”: How a Non-uniform Fluid Unit Survived the Century of Standardization

This presentation follows the journey of two small fluid units throughout the 19th century in Anglo-American medicine and pharmacy, explaining how the non-uniform “drop” survived while the standardized minim became obsolete. I emphasize two roles these units needed to fulfill: that of a physical measuring device, and that of a rhetorical communication device. First, I discuss the challenges unique to measuring small amounts of fluid, outlining how the modern medicine dropper developed out of an effort to resolve problems with the “minimometer,” which measured minims. Second, by treating the two units as tools for the communication of knowledge, I explain two epistemic audiences, the discursive audience and the practical audience. I explain how drops, as exemplified in “the open drop method” of administering general anesthesia, effectively communicated a gradual process and epistemically valuable heuristic to the audience of practitioners, whose attention to individual medical outcomes was important for verifying the proper dosage. I end with a proposal for how expanding this investigation of drops beyond the Anglosphere and into the French context could further complicate historiographical assumptions which equivocate standardization with progress in scientific measurement.

Bio: Rebecca Jackson is a historian and philosopher of measurement and methodology. She received her PhD in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine from Indiana University Bloomington in July 2023 and is currently a Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Her work on cases of non-standard, patient-centric measuring practices in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has been featured in Perspectives on Science, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Nuncius, Measurement, and soon the Bulletin for the History of Medicine.

Andreas Lingg (University of Witten/Herdecke), “Sola civium industria”: on ideas of productivity and craftsmanship in 16th century Nuremberg.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Nuremberg was one of the most influential cities in the Holy Roman Empire, both economically and politically. In particular, its role in the metal trade, its intermediary position between the mining districts of Central Europe and important commercial centers such as Antwerp, contributed to its rise. Far more than just through the export of raw metals, the city benefited from the large number of talented craftsmen who processed this material. Nuremberg's goldsmiths and silversmiths were famous throughout Europe for their skill. As early as the beginning of the 16th century, references to a new understanding of 'industria' emerged in this context, which had previously been dated much later in research. This article explores this conceptual shift - and searches for traces of this transformation at the intersection of humanist circles, mining and artisans.

Bio: Andreas Friedolin Lingg is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Witten/Herdecke. His research mainly deals with the history of economic ideas, economic history and philosophy as well as the history of knowledge. He studied in Friedrichshafen, Berlin and Munich. He has authored several articles and book chapters. His first monograph Die Entdeckung der Wirtschaft ('Discovering the Economy') investigates the interaction of early modern mining and economic discourses and imagination in Germany. It won the Hans Christoph Binswanger Prize 2023.

Gabriele Marcon (Warburg Institute/Villa I Tatti), Hidden Figures? Women’s Work in Early Modern Mining.

Early modern mines ranked among the most populated workplaces of preindustrial Europe. Both men and women engaged in mining activities. Yet women’s work, which historians have either scarcely documented or considered irremediably lost, was part of a paradox. On the one hand, early modern mines were segregated workplaces for women. In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, women were deemed unfit for mining labour, and perceived to lack the necessary strength and skills to carry out risky, unhealthy, and physically demanding activities. As a result, employers and subcontractors organized work and allocated tasks to women by following traditional gender differences in male and female labour outputs. On the other hand, while continuities of gender inequality persisted at various stages of their work, female agency challenged this gendered working environment. Women contributed to various economic, scientific, and labour activities of preindustrial mining. For instance, they participated in the industry as heads of money lending institutions in the mines, and worked in high-skilled positions such as surveyors, metalworkers, and labour supervisors. This presentation aims to shed new light on women’s work in early modern mines through the lens of the labour history of science. First, it surveys how humanist writers associated women with Nature, and how this connection underpinned technical discourses that excluded women’s bodies from mining activities. Second, it analyses how sixteenth-century texts on mining and metallurgy supported this scholarly tradition while also recognizing women’s participation in the mines as discoverers of new metal deposits. Finally, the presentation draws some preliminary conclusions by presenting new archival material on the scientific knowledge of German and Italian female labourers in the working community of the Medici mines in sixteenth-century Tuscany.

Bio:Gabriele Marcon is Warburg/I Tatti Joint Fellow 2023/2024 at I Tatti – The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Florence, Italy). His current project investigates women’s work in the mines of the Medici family in sixteenth-century Tuscany. Before joining I Tatti, he held positions as Lecturer in Early Modern European History at Durham University (UK) and as Teaching Fellow at the University of Padova. In 2022, He received his PhD from the European University Institute (Florence) with a thesis titled “The Movements of Mining: German Miners in Renaissance Italy (1450s-1550s)”. His research focuses on the social and economic history of mining in early modern Europe, with a particular emphasis on labour migration, women’s work, and resources in Renaissance Italy. Marcon has authored numerous articles and book chapters exploring topics such as wage negotiation, coercion, and labour mobility. Currently, he is working on his first monograph, tentatively titled Renaissance Underground: Labour and Science in the Mines of Early Modern Italy.

Eoin Philipps (La Salle - Ramon Llull University, Barcelona), ‘They’ve the concrete master race to keep you in your place’: canals, work and the canal system in the Imperial Meridian

This paper will explore the relationship between work, imperial-technological projects and scientific representations of this relationship in the context of the extensive canal and dock building projects pursued by the British state in the period 1760-1820. A recurring feature in British historiography of industrialisaion and enlightenment has been the division between political and imperial transformation on the one hand and industrial revolution on the other. The historiography of British canal and dock building has followed this pattern: dominated as it is by what might be called 'dry' accounts of their development: 'dry' in the sense that they have largely been told as stories of national industrial/economic development and separated from the expanding European maritime expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans; 'dry' too, because through this separation, the political and social dimensions of their development have been ignored. This paper will show the changing strategies, management and representations of canal building projects in contrast with the experience of those groups of workers who built, worked and managed these extensive waterways. This paper will attempt to show how examples of oceanic and colonial management came to be used as resources for an emerging group of plantation owners, engineers, mathematicians and astronomers to promote canal and dockyard schemes as the means for a form of labour control and discipline that situated technological systems as the means to transform the customary organisation of work of typically itinerant workforces. Importantly however, this paper will stress the means to which these projects were always resisted and that historians dependence on certain forms of representation - particularly enyclopaedias - has led to the experience of canal and dock builders and workers - as well as the forms of unpaid labour with which they were compared - as separate from the technological developments in which their role was central. As such, the paper attempts to show not only the ways through which we might approach a labour history of science and technology, but also to suggest that this must be done through situating the achievements of 'dry' European innovation in the context of 'wet' schemes of colonial management and imperial expansion.

Bio: Eóin Phillips is an historian and sociologist of science and technology and assistant professor at La Salle - Ramon Llull University where he co-directs the Observatory of Quantum Technologies. His work explores the social, economic and political development of calculative technologies and regulatory regimes, from the eighteenth century to the present day. He is currently completing a book about the transformation of European artisanal social relations in the context of the imperial meridian and the rise of the 'calculative state'. His new project waterways is an attempt to offer a 'global history from below',  exploring the relations between state planning, models of economic development and the formation of class identity with relation to canals, coasts, and inland river ways.