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Mechanism, Experiment, Disease

, 456 pages

108 halftones

March 2011



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Mechanism, Experiment, Disease

Marcello Malpighi and Seventeenth-Century Anatomy

A leading early modern anatomist and physician, Marcello Malpighi often compared himself to that period’s other great mind—Galileo. Domenico Bertoloni Meli here explores Malpighi’s work and places it in the context of seventeenth-century intellectual life.

Malpighi’s interests were wide and varied. As a professor at the University of Bologna, he confirmed William Harvey’s theory of the circulation of blood; published groundbreaking studies of human organs; made important discoveries about the anatomy of silkworms; and examined the properties of plants. He sought to apply his findings to medical practice. By analyzing Malpighi’s work, the author provides novel perspectives not only on the history of anatomy but also on the histories of science, philosophy, and medicine. Through the lens of Malpighi and his work, Bertoloni Meli investigates a range of important themes, from sense perception to the meaning of Galenism in the seventeenth century.

Bertoloni Meli contends that to study science and medicine in the seventeenth century one needs to understand how scholars and ideas crossed disciplinary boundaries. He examines Malpighi’s work within this context, describing how anatomical knowledge was achieved and transmitted and how those processes interacted with the experimental and mechanical philosophies, natural history, and medical practice.

Malpighi was central in all of these developments, and his work helped redefine the intellectual horizon of the time. Bertoloni Meli’s critical study of this key figure and the works of his contemporaries—including Borelli, Swammerdam, Redi, and Ruysch—opens a wonderful window onto the scientific and medical worlds of the seventeenth century.

Domenico Bertoloni Meli is a professor of history and philosophy of science at Indiana University and author of Thinking with Objects: The Transformation of Mechanics in the Seventeenth Century, also published by Johns Hopkins.

"The strength of Meli's work lies in his attention to detail in highly complex Latin works, and in his sensitivity to unpublished work, correspondence, diaries, and above all, to the technologies of illustration."

"Distinguished as this work was, in Mechanism, Experiment, Disease Domenico Bertoloni Meli maintains there is a great deal more to Marcello Malpighi. In this new book—part biography, part intellectual history of anatomy (the philosophy and mechanics of the body), and part history of medicine in the 17th century—Bertoloni Meli tells readers why. What he does wonderfully is to locate Malpighi as a practicing physician during Italy's scientific revolution. Bertoloni Meli conveys the excitement of the new science, voices the tumult that ensued as opposing schools of thought clashed, and reminds readers that priority disputes are nothing new."

"Bertoloni Meli makes great use of Malpighi's wonderful epistolary consultations to remind readers that boundaries between research and practice have been drawn too sharply by historians. His use of overlooked medical correspondence increases the presence of Malpighi, the medical practitioner, working from bench to bedside four centuries before translational research hit the headlines."

"The most comprehensive account to date of the works of Marcello Malpighi."

"Bertoloni Meli's book is a very valuable and welcome contribution to the ongoing reassessment of the Scientific Revolution as a manifold process that involved all areas of natural knowledge—from physics to medicine—and reconfigured each and their mutual relations."

"Among the many lessons to be taken from Domenico Bertoloni Meli's carefully researched, persuasive and, at times, beautifully rendered book is that the life sciences in the early modern period must be studied with an eye to the history of science, medicine and philosophy... There is too much to praise and to learn from Meli's book to do it justice in a short review such as this. For several years now his work has represented a vital and inspiring force in the history medicine, and Mechanism, Experiment, Disease: Marcello Malpighi and Seventeenth-Century Anatomy in particular will enliven the study of early modern medicine in ways we cannot pretend to anticipate. But one thing we are confident about is that Meli's latest book should shape the new work to be done on eighteenth-century notions of mechanism, the emergence of pathology, and the history of visualization and its practices."

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