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Stanford Libraries bring life of physicist Laura Bassi to the web



Laura Bassi

Stanford’s collaboration with Italian archive is basis for civic and scholarly celebration in Bologna. “Laura Bassi e le carte di famiglia” recognizes the pioneer female scientist.

In the eighteenth century, Laura Bassi was a scientist, professor at the University of Bologna, and member of the Bologna Academy of Sciences. Among the very first female professional scholars, her life (1711 – 1778) and work can tell us much about the personal and professional lives of early women scientists, their place in Enlightenment intellectual networks, as well as the spread of Newtonian physics in the Italian peninsula. Stanford history professor Paula Findlen is currently completing a scholarly biography on Bassi, while the Stanford University Libraries – in partnership with the Biblioteca comunale dell’Archiginnasio di Bologna and the Istituto per i Beni Artistici, Culturali e Naturali della Regione Emilia-Romagna – has brought Bassi’s family archive to the web.
To celebrate the culmination of this collaboration and the launch of the website, and to shine a spotlight on this remarkable woman on her 300th birthday, “The Papers of Laura Bassi and her Family: The Digitization of the Bassi Veratti Collection” will take place in Bologna on 20-21 March 2013. Findlen and University Librarian Michael Keller will be among the dignitaries and speakers participating.
“Laura Bassi is the first woman scientist who had a genuine career,” notes Findlen. “She was a university professor, experimenter, and member of Italy’s most important scientific academy but also the wife of a fellow scientist, Giuseppe Veratti, with whom she had eight children in a long, happy, and fruitful marriage… She inspired some of the most important male scientists of the next generation while also serving as a public example of a woman shaping the nature of knowledge in an era in which few women could imagine playing such a role. The desire to find the next ‘Laura Bassi’ became the basis for permitting other Italian women to become scientists.”
The Bassi Veratti Collection web site developed and hosted by Stanford Libraries features high-resolution digital images of the complete contents of the Bassi e famiglia Veratti Archive in a robust discovery and display environment. This remarkable project undertaken by the Digital Library Systems and Services department is notable for the extent of cooperation with colleagues in Bologna. A fully bilingual website, it showcases the way that new technologies have enhanced the traditional print archive. 672 letters, diplomas, poems, and other documents have been digitized, while the richly detailed inventory created by Archiginnasio archivists has been transformed into a bilingual and fully-indexed search engine to the collection. These two components have been seamlessly united in an intuitive and well-designed scholarly website.

The project was supported by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Marini Foundation, and Silicon Valley executive Guerrino De Luca (who serves on the Libraries' Advisory Council). The digital Bassi Veratti archive will be permanently preserved in the Stanford Digital Repository.
“This website – the product of effective cooperation among several cultural entities – opens avenues for research, study, and appreciation to scholars of many stripes,” said Keller. “It’s a great example of how we mediate between the past and the future. I am delighted that we were able to work with the Archiginnasio and the Istituto to realize the online Bassi Archive.”
The Biblioteca comunale dell'Archiginnasio, founded in 1801, is one of Italy's most important municipal libraries, whose rich print and manuscript collections reflect the special place that Bologna holds in the history of science, academia, and culture.

Event Details
20 March 2013: Press Conference followed by an exhibition about Laura Bassi
21 March 2013: Convegno (presentations by civic leaders and library directors followed by scholarly discussions, a demonstration of the digital archive, and closing with a dramatic reading of Laura Bassi’s correspondence)

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by Sarah B Sussman

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