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Awesome Men Throughout History: Giovanni Aldini

Giovanni Aldini isn’t a name that gets thrown around much anymore, and that’s really a crying shame. For one thing, he did a lot of important work in the late 1700s/early 1800s studying the medical uses of electric current; things like electroshock therapy and deep brain stimulation are based on his original findings.

Sidenote: his uncle, Luigi Galvini, pioneered galvanism (aka battery power), and a lot of Giovanni’s early research involved testing his uncle’s ideas.

aldiniFor another thing, Giovanni was an utter lunatic, in that he had this one thing that he’d mastered and was hellbent on applying it to every then-modern problem. Now, a lot of scientists and academics have issues overfocusing on what they study and ignoring the world around them, but Giovanni turned his lack of perspective into something of a career.

One of Giovanni’s primary fields was galvanism, better known as the the study of electrical properties of body cells and tissues. His own pet name for this was “animal electricity,” and he was convinced that the electricity coursing between the brain and the muscles could be supplied by an outside source to bring dead tissue back to life.

I’m sure you can all see where I’m going with this.

In a ghoulish, carnival mixture of science and public spectacle, Giovanni toured Europe like 19th century Elvis with a series of public experiments in which he pumped electrical current into the dismembered corpses of animals and people, with the intention of bringing them back to life.

An eyewitness account of Aldini working with a dog’s head is the stuff of nightmares: “Aldini, after having cut off the head of a dog, makes the current of a strong battery go through it: the mere contact triggers really terrible convulsions. The jaws open, the teeth chatter, the eyes roll in their sockets; and if reason did not stop the fired imagination, one would almost believe that the animal is suffering and alive again.”

Aldini’s most famous experiment was briefly reanimating the corpse of convicted murderer George Forster by sticking an electrified rod up Forster’s butt. The assembled crowd almost rioted from fear, screaming about hanging Forster again to make sure he stayed dead.

If this is all sounding like something out of Frankenstein (well, besides the rod-up-the-butt part) that’s not a coincidence—it’s been theorized that Mary Shelley based some of that book on Giovanni’s experiments and public persona.

I hope it’s becoming clear why Giovanni Aldini is this week’s Awesome Man Throughout History; there will always be room in this column for mad science.?

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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