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Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 7, Issue 1, Spring 2018

The Mathematization of Natural Philosophy between Practical Knowledge and Disciplinary Blending

Fabrizio Bigotti
Pages 73-103

The Weight of the Air
Santorio’s Thermometers and the Early History of Medical Quantification Reconsidered

The early history of thermometry is most commonly described as the result of a continuous development rather than the product of a single brilliant mind, and yet scholars have often credited the Italian physician Santorio Santori (1561–1636) with the invention of the first thermometers. The purpose of using such instruments within the traditional context of Galenic medicine, however, has not been investigated and scholars have consistently assumed that, being subject to the influence of atmospheric pressure and en­vironmental heat, Santorio’s instruments provided unreliable measurements. The discovery that, as early as 1612, Santorio describes all vacuum-related phenomena as effects of the atmospheric pressure of the air, provides ample room for reconsidering his role in the development of precision instruments and the early history of thermometry in particular. By drawing on a variety of written and visual sources, some unpublished, in the first part of this article I argue that Santorio’s appreciation of phenomena related to the weight of the air allowed him to construct the first thermometers working as sealed devices. Finally, in the second part, I consider Santorio’s use of the thermometer as related to the seventeenth-century medical practice and his way to measure the temperature as based on a wide sample of individuals.