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Electricity and Life. Episodes in the history of hybrid objects, edited by Giuliano Pancaldi, 2011, 183 pp.

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Giuliano Pancaldi: Preface / Marta Cavazza: Early work on electricity and medicine in the Bologna Academy of Sciences: Laura Bassi and Giuseppe Veratti / Gian Carlo Calcagno: Giovanni Aldini e l'elettricitą animale / Christian Carletti: From body to machine: electro-medicine in mid-19th century Italy / Luca Iori: Electrical Hybrids / Rupsha Banerjee, Kamanda Josey Ondieki: Electrification in the agricultural development of India / Daniela Crocetti: Visualizing life: inside the protocol of the molecular genetics laboratory / Francesco Martini: La terza mutazione metafisica: saggio sul sacro informazionale / Notes on contributors / Index of names


“That a wide range of topics in the long history of science and technology are better studied by avoiding the strict disciplinary boundaries that were enforced in 19th- and 20th-century science, is by now agreed upon by many historians. 

The papers in this volume adopt this perspective, and apply it to a number of episodes in the history of the dense interrelations between the study of electricity, the life sciences, and technology, from the mid-18th century to the present. As the reader will realize, the volume does not aim to highlight – much less to cover – the main episodes or turning points. The common thread, rather, is the attention the authors pay to the hybrid objects that have proliferated along the borders between
the study of electricity and the life sciences, be it the electrostatic machines used for medical practice and teaching in 18th-century Italy – immediately before Galvani and Volta entered the scene (M. Cavazza), or soon afterwards (G. C. Calcagno, C. Carletti) – or the electrophoresis techniques used in present-day genetic testing (D. Crocetti). Another common perspective the authors of the volume share is that science and technology are better studied together, rather than separately, and that to get a view of what “life” was at different times, the technologies of life – such as hybridization (L. Iori), agriculture (R. Banerjee and K. J. Ondieki), or the human-computer interface (F. Martini) – are no less important than the life sciences themselves.
“Hybrid objects” have had a conspicuous following among historians and philosophers of science over the past ten or twenty years. The authors of the present volume are aware of the fascinating reflections produced on the subject by authors such as Bruno Latour and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger. In the pages that follow, however, the emphasis will be mostly on the details of the historical episodes discussed, rather than on epistemological claims.” (G. Pancaldi)