Federica Favino

The "cultural life of things": the physical machines of Monsieur Leprotti

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The article reconstructs the "cultural biography" of six scientific objects, that is the compound machines for the experimental physics owned by Antonio Leprotti, Archiater to pope Benedict XIV. Their material stability, their persistency in spite of time, of wear and tear, allows to follow in the course of time "the category they belong to [...] the emotion and the judgment they inspire and the story they evoke", as "all historically-shaped data". These data are retrieved beginning with the "material culture" of the machines, that is their models, deterioration, maintenance, dislocation in space. Thus questioned, the objects talk. They tell the story of Leprotti's "museum" and cabinet and the ways he used them; they speak of the science performances displayed at the Roman university and substitute "rotuli" as a source for information on academic "syllabuses". Looking at history of science from the machines' point of view, the author aims at providing evidence for a "new" actor on the science scene: the "courtier" machinist and those instrument makers hidden in Roman shadowy cloisters.

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