Galileo’s surviving letters have long been the centerpiece of Galileo scholarship. The 3,257 letters written directly to or from Galileo were edited and published over a century ago by Antonio Favaro in the National Edition of Galileo’s Works. Many of Galileo’s important relations – with friends, family, patrons, disciples, publishers, and readers – were conducted through letters. Galileo published a number of his most important discoveries, including his observations of sunspots, in the form of printed letters, pioneering the uses of “letters” as a form of scientific communication. Some of his most famous writings, including his most articulate and controversial statement on the relationship between knowledge and faith known as the Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615), began as experiments in correspondence. Few people thought as long and as hard as Galileo about what a letter could do.

Fig. Letters to Galileo from his Roman Disciples.

During and after his 1633 trial, Galileo and his associates began the process of selecting and editing his letters, seeking to avoid further problems with the Roman Inquisition. Throughout his house arrest, Galileo also increasingly relied on correspondence as a means of communicating with the world for the final nine years of his life. His most self-conscious disciple, Vincenzo Viviani, continued this process of constructing an archive that supported the image of Galileo he crafted while writing his most important biography.

A primary goal of this project is to reconstruct and find new ways to understand the fraught archival legacy of Galileo’s letters, while also using the correspondence to develop new perspectives on Galileo as a writer and recipient of letters. We also use the correspondence to push beyond the confines of the letters themselves to track Galileo’s personal networks, his use and exchange of scientific instruments, and his communication strategies.