Laura Bassi, Miscellanea

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University of Bologna
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On Laura Bassi, Miscellanea
Marta Cavazza, Bologna, 1732. The birth of a filosofessa
     
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Laura Bassi (1711-1778): biographical and bibliographical profile

The fame of Laura Bassi, the “filosofessa di Bologna” [Algarotti 1739], and the symbolic value of her position in eighteenth-century Italy and Europe, were mostly due to the sensation created by the series of unheard-of honours and acknowledgements that the Senate, the University and the Academy of Sciences of Bologna (the most important city of the Papal States, after Rome) conferred on her in 1732. Laura Bassi was not the first woman to receive a degree (there had been legendary precedents in the Italian Middle Ages, and the recent case of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, who graduated in philosophy in Padua in 1678), but she was certainly the first to be given a university readership, and thus the first, however special the conditions, to enter on a permanent basis into that “world without women” [David F. Noble] which the university had been from its very beginnings. The following years will see the Bologna dottoressa's determination and ability to make a career for herself as a woman of science, something wholly new in those times. Going beyond the restrictions that had been placed on her, “because of her sex”, by the City authorities (she would have to teach in the university only by command of the Senate, on particularly solemn occasions), Laura Bassi knew how to gain the esteem of the scientific community through the courses in experimental physics she held for thirty years in her own home (officially recognised and paid for), and through the memoirs presented to the city's Academy of Science. She had been admitted to this prestigious assembly, as an honorary member, in 1732, and in 1745 was to obtain a place in the select class of the Benedictine academicians, set up by Pope Benedict XIV with the aim of increasing scientific productivity.