November 1, 2010 Galileo's "Sidereus Nuncius" Subject of Conference

Press Contact: Erin Allen (202) 707-7302
Public Contact: Rare Book and Special Collections Division (202) 707-6253

Revolutionary in its findings and observations, Galileo’s “Sidereus Nuncius” or “Starry Messenger” also influenced later scientific and cartographic representations of celestial objects. First published 400 years ago, the book contains the first telescopic images of the moon, diagrams showing the location and motion of the moons of Jupiter, and the first telescopic celestial maps of the Milky Way.

The Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division in cooperation with the Center for the Book will sponsor a day-long conference to celebrate its recent acquisition of Galileo's “Sidereus Nuncius” on Friday, Nov. 5, from 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C.

The conference is free and is open to the public, but reservations are requested. Contact the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at (202) 707-6253.

The conference will approach the book from a variety of disciplinary standpoints and present new research on the book itself. Speakers include Paul Needham and Eileen Reeves of Princeton University; David Marshall Miller of Duke University; John Hessler of the Library of Congress; Owen Gingerich of Harvard University; and Peter Machamer of the University of Pittsburgh. They will cover themes found in the work, focus on new research on the book and discuss its lasting influence on scientific and modern astronomical representation.

Needham will present “The Making of ‘Sidereus Nuncius’: From Manuscript and Sketches to Types, Woodcuts and Etchings,” discussing how the printing and construction of the book “allows us to sketch a dynamic picture of how this revolutionary publication came into existence.”

Reeves will present “Hearing Things: Organ Pipes, Trumpets, and Telescopes” and will answer the question of why was there a “tendency to associate the earliest telescope with organ pipes and trumpets for both functional and aesthetic reasons” in Tuscan circles of the period.

Miller’s talk is titled “Galileo on the Moon: Seen and Unseen.” He will present research on how the information in Galileo’s “Sidereus Nuncius” changed the grounds upon which natural philosophical argument and debate was carried out.

Hessler will discusse “Galileo’s Logical Figures: Demonstration and Representation in the Dialectica, Theoremata and ‘Sidereus Nuncius.’” He will talk about how Galileo’s “early demonstrative methods” were made manifest “not only in these texts, but also, and more clearly, in his illustrations and in his discourse about the moons of Jupiter.”

Gingerich will present “Galileo’s Copernican Conversion” and discuss why Galileo “remained a timid Copernican until his newly devised telescope revealed novelties in the heavens.”

The reception and influence of Galileo's “Sidereus Nuncius” and how it contributed to his fate 23 years after its publication will be the topic of Machamer’s discussion, where he will cite the case against Galileo by the Inquisition.

For speaker biographies and abstracts of the authors’ presentations, visit For a digital reproduction of the Library of Congress’ copy of “Sidereus Nuncius,” go to

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PR 10-247
ISSN 0731-3527