NEWS: Galileo's Notes See Light of Cyberspace

Science  12 Jun 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5370, pp. 1663
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5370.1663b

Very few historians of science have ever had the opportunity to study Galileo Galilei's “Notes on Motion.” Despite its historical significance, the material, which is kept safe at the National Library in Florence, Italy, has never been published—until now. Last month, in a joint project by the library, the Institute and Museum for the History of Science in Florence, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, some 270 pages were posted on the Web for perusal by anyone interested in the history of physics (www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/Galileo_Prototype/).

The manuscript, a chaotic collection of Latin and Italian texts, tables, calculations, proofs, and drawings, served as the raw material for Galileo's monumental Discorsi (1638), which laid the foundation for classical mechanics. Max Planck science historian Jürgen Renn first proposed publishing the Notes in print a decade ago. But the Internet proved a much better medium, Renn says, both because dissemination is easy and because of how complex material could be organized: Hyperlinks guide visitors from images of the yellowed pages of the manuscript to the transcribed and translated text, or to the corresponding proof in the Discorsi.

“It really opens up new possibilities for presenting the results of our scholarly work,” says Renn. His institute and collaborators at Tufts University near Boston plan to put more mechanics manuscripts on the Net. “Basically, we want to do the same with every source from antiquity to the early modern period,” says Renn.

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