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VOLTA, ALESSANDRO. - Rare Document Signed by Alessandro Volta
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VOLTA, ALESSANDRO. - Rare Document Signed by Alessandro Volta

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VOLTA, ALESSANDRO. (1745-1827). Italian physicist and pioneer in electricity; the electrical unit, volt, is named in his honor. Partially printed DS. (“A. Volta Director”). 2pp. Oblong 4to. Pavia, 1817-1818. In Italian. A tally of students enrolled in the classes of mathematics and astronomy professor Giovanni Gratognini (1757-1836) during the first semester of the academic year 1817-1818.


Volta became professor of experimental physics at the University of Pavia in 1778. During that era, the educational institutions of Pavia and nearby Milan, then under Austrian control, underwent a series of reforms led by Austrian statesman Carlo di Firmian. “Firmian’s programme was a veritable show-piece for enlightened absolutism. He took pride in furthering science and orchestrating the drive for improved efficiency in the economic, fiscal, legal and military spheres while insisting on maintaining the privileges and the special role in administration of the nobility. The overall result was a distinctive local version of the Enlightenment, officially backed and eminently respectable… Proof of its vitality lay in Volta’s researches, a celebrated new astronomical observatory in Milan, the arrival from Modena of the leading biologist, [Lazarro] Spallanzani, and especially the rapid emergence to international status of Pavia university. At Pavia… student numbers rose steeply from around 150 in 1750 to over 1,000 by 1788, at a time when Turin, Bologna, and most other Italian and European universities languished with lamentably low student enrollments,” (Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790, Israel).


During his nearly 40-year tenure at Pavia, Volta became one of Europe’s most eminent physicists through his experiments with electricity and the invention of the electrical conductor now known as the “voltaic pile,” the world’s first direct current battery.


The success of this invention prompted Napoleon, who had attended the battery’s demonstration in Paris and who had wrested control of Northern Italy from the Austrians in 1796, to award Volta the title of count and senator of the Kingdom of Lombardy.


In 1881, the volt, a unit of electromotive force that drives current, was named in Volta’s honor.


With the number of students in each class noted in Volta’s hand. Gently folded and very lightly foxed. Scarce.


Item #20395  


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