Hannah Marcus

Hannah Marcus

John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences
Associate Faculty Director of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments

Areas of Research: Early Modern Science and Medicine

Hannah Marcus is the John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of the History of Science and the Associate Faculty Director of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University. Her research focuses on the scientific culture of early modern Europe between 1400 and 1700.

Marcus’s first book, Forbidden Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and Censorship in Early Modern Italy (University of Chicago Press, 2020), explores the censorship of medical books from their proliferation in print through the prohibitions placed on many of these texts during the Counter-Reformation. This account explains how and why the books prohibited by the Catholic Church in Italy ended up back on the shelves of private and public Italian libraries in the seventeenth century. It was awarded the Morris D. Forkosch Prize for the best first book in intellectual history by the Journal of the History of Ideas and the Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize in Italian History by the American Catholic Historical Association.

Marcus is also the translator of the sixteenth-century apothecary Camilla Erculiani’s Letters on Natural Philosophy (1584). Erculiani’s text presents a radical, materialist explanation for the Biblical flood—a theory that she had to defend against the Inquisition’s charges of heresy. The translation includes accompanying texts about Erculiani’s legal defense and was recognized with an Honorable Mention for the Scholarly Edition in Translation Award by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender.

Marcus’s second book, Methuselah’s Children: The Renaissance Discovery of Old Age, is a study of ideas about longevity and experiences of advanced old age in a period when the average life expectancy was 35.

Marcus engages in digital humanities research through her work on Galileo, which she has published in collaboration with Paula Findlen (Stanford) and Crystal Hall (Bowdoin). With Findlen, she is writing a book about Galileo’s correspondence called Galileo’s Letters: Experiments in Friendship, which grows out of their collaboration on The Galileo Correspondence Project. With her colleague Allan Brandt, Marcus directs the new online resource History of Contagion in Harvard Library Collections, which solicits and publishes short commentaries on fully digitized primary source documents related to the history of contagious disease.

Marcus’s public writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Scientific American, among other venues.

Marcus earned her BA at the University of Pennsylvania and her PhD at Stanford University in 2016. At Harvard, she teaches courses on the changes in scientific ideas and practice between the medieval and early modern periods, especially focusing on the early history of science, medicine, and the body, communication technologies, and the relationship between faith and science. She supervises graduate students working on questions related to science in premodernity. Marcus’s undergraduate teaching was recognized with the Roslyn Abramson Award, for “excellence and sensitivity in teaching undergraduates” and her mentorship has been recognized by the Harvard Graduate Student Council with the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award.

Selected Publications:


Forbidden Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and Censorship in Early Modern Italy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020.

Camilla Erculiani, Letters on Natural Philosophy, edited by Eleonora Carinci, translated by Hannah Marcus. University of Toronto Press series “The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe.” Forthcoming fall 2020.

Articles (selected)

“Knowing Old Age in the Renaissance: Medicine, Poetry, and Spirituality in Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Encyclopedia of Old Age,” accepted for publication at Journal of the History of Ideas. (forthcoming) (Peer reviewed)

(with Allan Brandt), “Introduction to the Project,” Harvard Library Bulletin, July 2021. https://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368738

(with Crystal Hall), “Shattering Crystal with Crystal: Galileo’s Rhetoric, Lenses, and the Epistemology of Metaphor,” History of Science, October 2021. (Peer reviewed)

“Revisiting the Plague in the Age of Galileo,” Isis: A Journal of the History of Science, 111. 4 (Dec. 2020): 809-813. (Peer reviewed)

(with Paula Findlen), “Deciphering Galileo: Communication and Secrecy Before and After the Trial,” Renaissance Quarterly 72 (2019): 953–95. doi:10.1017/rqx.2019.253 (Peer reviewed)

“The Mind of the Censor: Girolamo Rossi, a Physician and Censor for the Congregation of the Index,” Early Science and Medicine 23 (2018): 14-33.

“Expurgated Books as an Archive of Practice,” The Archive Journal (August 2017), online at http://www.archivejournal.net/essays/expurgated-books-as-an-archive-of-practice/.

(with Paula Findlen), “The Breakdown of Galileo's Roman Network: Crisis and Community, c. 1633,” Social Studies of Science (2017), Vol. 47(3), pp. 326-352.

“Bibliography and Book Bureaucracy: Reading Licenses and the Circulation of Prohibited Books in Counter-Reformation Italy,” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Vol. 110, No. 4 (Dec. 2016), pp. 433-457.

Contact Information

p: (617) 495-2298


Faculty Areas of Research