Galileo’s World opens at Sam Noble

Originally posted at, the now-discontinued blog of the OU History of Science Collections. Neither this post nor any of its content should be taken as an official communication of the University of Oklahoma.

Galileo’s World is upon us… The first Galileo’s World exhibit opened Saturday, August 1st, at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History!

The joint-exhibit, Through the Eyes of the Lynx: Galileo, Natural History and the Americas, will run Aug. 1 – Jan. 18, 2016.

This exhibit explores the question: “How did the natural knowledge of Native Americans shape European science in the age of Galileo?”


The focal point of this exhibit is the natural history of Mexico by Francisco Hernandez, published by Galileo and his colleagues in the Academy of the Lynx. Through this work, Native American knowledge of plants and animals became part of mainstream European biology. Galileo’s world extended far beyond Italy to include the western hemisphere. Natural history became transformed into a global endeavor.

Check out “FRANCISCO HERNANDEZ: THE COOLEST EXPLORER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF”, a report of this exhibit by Cara Giaimo on the Atlas Obscura news site (a “definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places”).




The king of Spain commissioned a physician, Francisco Hernandez, to compile Native American plant and animal knowledge. Beginning in 1571, Hernandez worked closely with Aztec artists and physicians in central Mexico. This work resulted in a massive, multi-volume set of notes, with painted illustrations, describing thousands of animals and plants unknown to most of the world.

An Italian nobleman, Federigo Cesi, founded the Academy of the Lynx (Accademia dei Lincei), one of the earliest scientific societies. Publishing a definitive edition of the manuscript of Hernandez comprised the central, albeit elusive, goal of Cesi and the Academy of the Lynx. Galileo joined the ranks of the Lynx in 1611, bringing wide-ranging expertise in mathematics, engineering, literature, art and medicine. Soon he became their star member. Other members included some of the leading naturalists of the day. They worked together to publish a monumental natural history of the Americas based upon the manuscript Hernandez prepared for the king of Spain. The landmark project, finally accomplished in 1651, more than 70 years after Hernandez’ sojourn in central Mexico, symbolizes the transformation of natural history into a global endeavor.

In antiquity, the lynx was renowned for possessing sharp eyesight at night. Cesi believed that the eyes of the Academy of the Lynx would peer more deeply into the secrets of nature than ever before. Because of their work to publish Hernandez’ natural history of Mexico, the keen eyes of the Academy of the Lynx stretched the boundaries of European thought in the life sciences just as with Galileo’s discoveries in the physical sciences.

What you will see

The Lynx edition of Hernandez is on display in this exhibit, alongside specimens from the Sam Noble Museum and the Robert Bebb Herbarium of the OU Department of Biology.

Three Galileo first editions: The first edition of Galileo’s masterwork in physics, the Discourse on Two New Sciences (1636), finds its place in the exhibit because of its critique of giant tales, which provided a scientific constraint for assessing reports of strange creatures. This prized Galileo first edition is included alongside a little-known work of literary criticism by Galileo, Considerations on Tasso (first published in 1793). A third Galileo first edition is a pamphlet of letters to Cesi about the Academy of the Lynx.

Other original books include the first published edition of Aristotle’s biological works (1476); the natural histories of Aldrovandi and Topsell; early hand-colored printed herbals of Fuchs and Gerard, and other works in natural history by members of the Academy of the Lynx.

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Co-curators: James Burnes, Carolyn Scearce, Jackson Pope, Tom Luczycki, Katrina Menard, Melissa Rickman, Kerry Magruder.

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