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Paula Findlen

Headshot of Paula Findlen

Paula Findlen

Professor of Early Modern Europe and History of Science
Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of Italian History
Co-Director of the Suppes Center for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
Early Modern Europe
History of Science
Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley
B.A., Wellesley College

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.

Selected Publications & Projects

Paula Findlen
Empires of Knowledge charts the emergence of different kinds of scientific networks – local and long-distance, informal and institutional, religious...
Paula Findlen, Caroline Winterer, Giovanna Ceserani
Dan Edelstein
Before email, faculty meetings, international colloquia, and professional associations, the world of scholarship relied on its own networks: networks...
Paula Findlen
What can we learn about the past by studying things? How does the meaning of things, and our relationship to them, change over time? This fascinating...



BBC Radio 4 - Philip Ball - Science Stories
Galileo's lost letter
Galileo famously insisted in the early seventeenth century that the Earth goes round the Sun and not vice versa – an idea that got him into deep trouble with the Catholic Church. In 1633 Galileo was put in trial for heresy by the Inquisition, and was threatened with imprisonment, or worse, if he didn’t recant. Galileo spent the rest of his days under house arrest and is now seen by some as a near-martyr to science in the face of unyielding religious doctrine. But the discovery of a letter questions the received version of events. Philip Ball tells the story of the relationship between Galileo, the church and his fellow professors.
Philip talks to science historians Professor Paula Findlen of Stanford University and Professor Mary Jane Rubenstein of Wesleyan University about Galileo's time and about the history of the relationship between science and religion.

Bat of Minerva interview with Peter Shea on Leonardo da Vinci, University of Minnesota

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

Top of Mind with Julie Rose, BYU Radio
Guest: Paula Findlen, Ph.D., Professor of Italian History and Chair of the Department of History at Stanford University
The women of Bologna are so legendary, there’s even a page dedicated to them on the Italian city’s tourism website. They’re known as Medieval Feminists – highly-educated and influential at a time when women were generally considered less-than-men.

Their stories are a point of great pride in Italy. They’re also largely fiction according to the research of Paula Findlen.