Paula Findlen

Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of Italian History; Chair, Department of History; Director of the Suppes Center for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology Director, SIMILE Program

At Stanford Since

Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley; B.A., Wellesley College
Complete CV: 

Research Interests

I have taught the early history of science and medicine for many years on the premise that one of the most important ways to understand how science, medicine and technology have become so central to contemporary society comes from examining the process by which scientific knowledge emerged. I also take enormous pleasure in examining a kind of scientific knowledge that did not have an autonomous existence from other kinds of creative endeavors, but emerged in the context of humanistic approaches to the world (in defiance of C.P. Snow's claim that the modern world is one of "two cultures" that share very little in common). More generally, I am profoundly attracted to individuals in the past who aspired to know everything. It still seems like a worthy goal.

My other principal interest lies in understanding the world of the Renaissance, with a particular focus on Italy. I continue to be fascinated by a society that made politics, economics and culture so important to its self-definition, and that obviously succeeded in all these endeavors for some time, as the legacy of such figures as Machiavelli and Leonardo suggests. Renaissance Italy, in short, is a historical laboratory for understanding the possibilities and the problems of an innovative society. As such, it provides an interesting point of comparison to Gilded Age America, where magnates such as J.P. Morgan often described themselves as the "new Medici," and to other historical moments when politics, art and society combined fruitfully.

Finally, I have a certain interest in the relations between gender, culture and knowledge. Virginia Woolf rightfully observed at the beginning of the twentieth century that one could go to a library and find a great deal about women but very little that celebrated or supported their accomplishments. This is no longer true a century later, in large part thanks to the efforts of many scholars, male and female, who have made the work of historical women available to modern readers and who have begun to look at relations between the sexes in more sophisticated ways. Our own debates and disagreements on such issues make this subject all the more important to understand.

Courses Taught

  • The Rise and Fall of Europe (IHUM)
  • Power, Art and Knowledge in Renaissance Italy
  • Heretics, Prostitutes and Merchants: The Venetian Empire
  • The Emergence of Medicine: The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
  • Science, Art and Technology: The Worlds of Leonardo
  • When Worlds Collide: The Trial of Galileo
  • New Worlds, Imaginary Worlds
  • The Scientific Revolution
  • The Mind Has No Sex
  • Early Modern Europe Research Seminar



Forthcoming Books

  • The Woman in Love with Newton: The Extraordinary Career of Laura Bassi (nearly completed, infinitely delayed manuscript!).
  •  A Fragmentary Past: The Making of Museums in Late Renaissance Italy (ca. 350 pp. manuscript awaiting the completion of one final chapter and updating of other chapters)
  •  Newton's Shadow:  Francesco Algarotti and the Passion for Science in the Eighteenth Century (book to be prepared from the 2012 Mellon Lectures in the History of Science to inaugurate a new book series, University of Pittsburg Press; research complete and writing underway)

Current Research Projects

  • Galileo's Laughter: Knowledge and Play in the Renaissance (long-term project emerging in such articles as "Jokes of Nature and Jokes of Knowledge," "Francis Bacon and the Reform of Natural History," "Between Carnival and Lent," and "Ludic Afterthoughts")
  • Mapping the Republic of Letters [collaborative project with Dan Edelstein, Nicole Coleman, Giovanna Ceserani, and Caroline Winterer and a team of students and staff exploring new ways to analyze, visualize, and understand the early modern republic of letters, its networks, travelers, and publications).  
  • The Renaissance (long-term project to write the Oxford Short History of the Renaissance)
  • Galileo's Finger:  Science and Religion after the Trial (project emerging in such articles as "In the Shadow of Galileo," "Calculations of Faith," "Science under Inquisition," and "Rethinking 1633"; explores the evolving relationship between science and religion between 1633 and 1758 as well as focusing on the networks of Catholic scholars who came of age in the decades after Galileo's trial)
  • The Painter's Fossils:  Art and Science in Seventeenth-Century Messina (study of Agostino Scilla's work on fossils emerging in recent articles as "Agostino Scilla" and "The Specimen and the Image"; part of a collaboration with Rodney Palmer to create a modern English edition of Scilla's Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense, 1670)
  • Empires of Knowledge: Scientific Networks in the Early Modern World (collaborative project emerging from my work on “Mapping the Republic of Letters”; see May 2014 workshop at Stanford)

Selected Articles

  • "The Museum:  Its Classical Etymology and Renaissance Genealogy," Journal of the History of Collections 1 (1989): 59-78.  [republished in Bettina Messias Carbonell, ed., Museum Studies:  An Anthology of Contexts (Oxford:  Blackwell, 2003), pp. 23-50; and Donald Preziosi and Claire Farago, eds., Grasping the World:  The Idea of the Museum (London:  Ashgate Publishing, 2004)].
  • "Historical Thought in the Renaissance," in Companion to Historical Thought, ed. Lloyd Kramer and Sarah Maza (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002).
  • "Ideas in the Mind: Gender and Knowledge in the Seventeenth Century," Hypatia(2002).
  • "Science, History, and Erudition: Athanasius Kircher's Museum at the Collegio Romano," in Daniel Stolzenberg, ed., The Great Art of Knowing: The Athanasius Kircher Collection at Stanford University (Rome: Casalini Editore, 2001).
  • "Building the House of Knowledge: The Structures of Thought in Late Renaissance Europe," in Tore Frangsmyr, ed., The Structure of Knowledge: Classifications of Science and Learning since the Renaissance (Berkeley, 2001).
  • "The Modern Muses: Collecting and the Cult of Remembrance in Renaissance Italy," in Museums and Memory, ed. Susan Crane (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).
  • "The Janus Faces of Science in the Seventeenth Century: Athanasius Kircher and Isaac Newton," in Rethinking the Scientific Revolution, ed. Margeret Osler (Cambridge, U. K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
  • "Mr. Murray's Cabinet of Wonder," preface to reprint of David Murray, Museums, Their History and Their Use (Staten Island, NY: Pober Publishing, 2000).
  • (with Tara Nummedal) "Scientific Publishing in the Seventeenth Century," in Scientific Books, Libraries and Readers (London: Scolar Press, 1999).
  • "The Formation of a Scientific Community: Natural History in Sixteenth-Century Italy," in Natural Particulars: Renaissance Natural Philosophy and the Disciplines, ed. Anthony Grafton and Nancy Siraisi (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999).
  • "A Forgotten Newtonian: Women and Science in the Italian Provinces," in The Sciences in Enlightenment Europe, ed. William Clark, Jan Golinski and Simon Schaffer (University of Chicago Press, 1999).
  • "Masculine Prerogatives: Gender, Space and Knowledge in the Early Modern Museum," in The Architecture of Science, ed. by Peter Galison and Emily Thompson. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.
  • "Between Carnival and Lent: The Scientific Revolution at the Margins of Culture," Configurations 5 (1998).
  • "Possessing the Past: The Material World of the Italian Renaissance," American Historical Review 103 (1998): 83-114.
  • "Translating the New Science: Women and the Circulation of Knowledge in Enlightenment Italy," Configurations 2 (1995): 167-206.
  • "Science as a Career in Enlightenment Italy: The Strategies of Laura Bassi" Isis 84 (1993): 441-469.
  • "Humanism, Politics and Pornography in Renaissance Italy," in Lynn Hunt, ed., The Invention of Pornography (New York: Zone Books, 1993), pp.49-108.
  • "Jokes of Nature and Jokes of Knowledge: The Playfulness of Scientific Discourse in Early Modern Europe," Renaissance Quarterly 43 (1990): 292-331.

Online Articles


Prof. Findlen in the News


  • NEH "Networks in History" Grant, 2013-14 
  • (Co-PI) Faber Lecture in Renaissance Studies, Princeton University 2013 
  • Kahn-Van Slyke Award for Graduate Mentorship 2012 
  • Mellon Lectures in the History of Science, University of Pittsburgh, October 2012 
  • Josephine Walters Bennett Lecturer, Renaissance Society of America, March 2012 
  • Ellen Andrews Wright Senior Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center 2011-12 
  • NEH “Digging into the Data” Grant 2010-11 
  • (Co-PI) Presidential Fund for Innovation in the Humanities, 2008-11 (Co-PI, “Mapping the Republic of Letters”)
  • Faculty Research Fellow, Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research 2008-09
  • Gladys Krieble Delmas, Foundation Grant 2008-09, 2011-12, and 2012-13
  • Presidential Fund for Innovation in the Humanities 2008-11 (Co-PI, 'Mapping the Republic of Letters')
  • Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize for best article in a three-year period (History of Science Society) 2004
  • Invited Fellow, Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences 2007-08
  • American Council of Learned Societies Senior Fellowship 2003-04
  • American Philosophical Society Sabbatical Fellowship 2003-04
  • Visiting Professor, Folger Shakespeare Library, spring 2003
  • Professeur Associe, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 2001-02
  • Visiting Professor, University of Groningen, 2000
  • Visiting Professor, Harvard University, History of Science Dept, 1994
  • Guggenheim Fellow, 1998-99
  • Co-Recipient, Getty Foundation Grant, 1998-99
  • Stanford Humanities Center Fellowship, 1998-99
  • Invited Senior Scholar, Getty Center, 1995-96
  • Pfizer Prize for best book in History of Science, 1996
  • Howard Marraro Prize for best book in Italian History, American Catholic Historical Association, 1995
  • Derek Price award for best article, History of Science Society, 1993
  • American Council for Learned Societies Fellowship, 1992-93
  • American Philosophical Society Grant 1992-93
  • Nelson Prize for best article, Renaissance Society of America, 1990
  • NEH Younger Scholars Research Grant 1984

University Service

  • Program Director, SIMILE, 2013-16
  • Director, Patrick J. Suppes Center for the History and Philosophy of Science, 2012-15 
  • Chair, Department of History, 2008-11 
  • Co-Director and Co-Founder, Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 2006-10 
  • Associate Director, Suppes Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Science and Technology, 2004-08, 10-11 
  • Co-Director, Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, 2004-07, 10-11 
  • Co-Director, Science, Technology and Society Program, Stanford University, 1999-2003

Professional Affiliations

  • Co-Editor, Configurations
  • Advisory Board, Eighteenth Century Studies, 2000-present
  • Editorial Board, Journal of the History of Collections
  • Editorial Board, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies
  • Editorial Board, Isis, 1996-99
  • Journal of the History of Biology Bookshelf Board, 1990-98
  • American Historical Association (Program Committee 1998, Nominating Committee, 2003-06)
  • Society for Italian Historical Studies
  • Renaissance Society of America (Council, 1991-93, 2003-05)
  • Sixteenth Century Studies Conference (Progam Committee 1996-98)
  • History of Science Society (Pfizer Prize Committee 1996-99, Nominating Committee 1998-99, Council 1998-2000)