Preface to the Printed Edition

by Gerard L'E. Turner (Imperial College, University of London)

There can be no science without instruments. Yet the formal study of the history of science has concentrated on the development of ideas and theories, often to the neglect of the essential tools of the scientist. During the last decade, however, the balance has begun to be rectified, and nowhere has the interest in the scientific apparatus of past centuries developed more rapidly than in Italy.

A treasure house of art and archaeology, Italy has also succeeded in preserving many important collections of scientific instruments. These, and the institutions that formed them, are now being studied, and catalogues compiled and published. The result is to increase knowledge, not only on how science was practised in schools and universities and by learned societies, but also of the growth and operation of the scientific instrument trade throughout Europe.

The present catalogue, most usefully published in English as well as in Italian, is an important addition to this new literature. Its value is enhanced through the provision of a picture for each instrument. The first section describes the development of the study of astronomy at Bologna, home of Europe's oldest university. Teaching of astronomy began as early as the end of the thirteenth century, but serious observation of the heavens was initiated by Luigi Ferdinando Marsili (1658-1730), who founded a private observatory at his own home. He then persuaded the Bolognese Senate to provide a building to house his collection of instruments, a library and an observatory tower, and funding for teaching and laboratory equipment. By 1726, the project was completed, and the scientific institute in operation. More instruments were purchased, a quantity being ordered from England.

Now it is time to draw the attention of the wider world to the relevance and significance of the study of instruments. Historians must be persuaded to accept that there could have been no science without instruments, and that in the historical context they provide the concrete referent to the development of scientific theory. We live in the age of science-based technology; it has created our enviroment, which could never have existed without instruments, and this fact must be brought into focus. Surely the display of instruments in a historical setting in museums is essential to the public understanding of these truths.

I have myself visited the Museo della Specola, and seen with pleasure the care with which the surviving instruments have been displayed in their original setting. Some 100 instruments remain, and these are catalogued in detail, with a full bibliography and indexes. I congratulate the three authors on their energy and enthusiasm, and the University of Bologna on its support for this initiative.