Paula Findlen

Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of History and Professor, by courtesy, of French and Italian
B.A., Wellesley College, Medieval/Renaissance Studies (1984)
M.A., University of California, Berkeley, History (1985)
Exchange Scholar, The University of Chicago (1986)
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, History (1989)
Paula Findlen
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.

Featured News

June 11, 2020
What will we remember of this year of COVID-19 and how will we recall it? In 1374, during the final year of a long and interesting life, the Italian humanist and poet Francesco Petrarch observed that his society had lived with “this plague, without equal in all the centuries", for over twenty-five years.1 His fortune and misfortune had been...
May 12, 2020
BY MELISSA DE WITTE For Italians in the 14th-century, the bubonic plague at first seemed extraordinary but its repeated return made it so much a part of daily life that it became an economic annoyance and an administrative problem to resolve, and eventually led to advances in medicine and public health, according to Stanford historian and...
April 29, 2020
The plague haunts our imagination as an indelible memory. Yet few of us have any experience of it, even as epidemiologists have noted an uptick in the number of cases in the last few decades to around some two thousand each year. We know the plague best, of course, through the lens of the Black Death, the infamous outbreak of plague that peaked...


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BBC Radio 4 - Philip Ball - Science Stories
Galileo's lost letter

Paula Findlen on Athanasius Kircher with Robert Harrison on KZSU Stanford Radio

Top of Mind with Julie Rose, BYU Radio - Medieval Femnists