Galvani, professor of anatomy at the University of Bologna, was studying
the nervous system of the frog when he noted that distant electrical discharges
would cause violent muscular contractions in a dissected frog if the lumbar
nerve was in contact with a metal instrument. He called this force "animal
electricity" but it quickly became known across Europe as "galvanism."
Galvani was in error-the phenomena he observed was caused by the generation
of electricity by different metals in a moist atmosphere-but his mistake had
manifold consequences. The idea of galvanism forms the background to Mary
Shelley's Frankenstein, while the physicist Alessandro Volta, in
disproving Galvani's theory, was led to the invention of the electric battery.
Galvani first published his findings in the proceedings of the Bologna
Academy and Institute of Sciences and Arts in March 1791. A very small edition
of the paper was then printed to be distributed to Galvani's friends. Though the
Health Sciences Library owns one of that rare edition, the copy on display here
was part of a printing later that same year designated for public sale. The
plate shows Galvani's laboratory with the dissected frog's legs, an
electrostatic machine (left), and a Leyden jar (right).