Natural Things in Early Modern Worlds  book cover
1st Edition

Natural Things in Early Modern Worlds

  • Available for pre-order on April 18, 2023. Item will ship after May 9, 2023
ISBN 9781032397207
May 9, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
344 Pages 101 Color Illustrations

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Book Description

The essays and original visualizations collected in Natural Things in Early Modern Worlds explore the relationships among natural things, ranging from pollen in a gust of wind, to a carnivorous pitcher plant, to a shell-like skinned armadillo, and the humans enthralled with them.

Episodes from 1500 to the early 1900s reveal connected histories across early modern worlds, as natural things travelled across the Indian Ocean, the Ottoman Empire, Pacific islands, Southeast Asia, the Spanish Empire, and Western Europe. In distant worlds that were constantly changing with expanding networks of trade, colonial aspirations, and the rise of empiricism, natural things obtained new meanings and became alienated from their origins. Tracing the processes of their displacement, each chapter starts with a piece of original artwork that relies on digital collage to pull image sources out of place and to represent meanings that natural things lost and remade. Accessible and elegant, Natural Things is the first study of its kind to combine original visualizations with the history of science.

Museum-goers, scholars, scientists, and students will find new histories of nature and collecting within. Its playful visuality will capture the imagination of non-academic and academic readers alike while reminding us of the alienating capacity of the modern life sciences.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Manipulated

1. Pollen: The Sexual Life of Plants in Mesoamerica

Helen Burgos-Ellis

2. Bezoar: Medicine in the Belly of the Beast

Mackenzie Cooley

3. Canal: Cross-Cultural Encounters and Control of Water

Alexander Statman

4. Ambergris: From Sea to Scent in Renaissance Italy

Mackenzie Cooley and Kathryn Biedermann


Part 2: Felt

5. Squid: Natural History as Food History

Whitney Barlow Robles

6. Coffee: Of Melancholic Turkish Bodies and Sensory Experiences

Duygu Yıldırım

7. Manchineel: Power, Pain, and Knowledge in the Lesser Antilles

Thomas C. Anderson

8. Pitcher Plant: Drowning in her Sweet Nectar

Elaine Ayers


Part 3: Preserved

9. Leaf: The Materiality of Early Modern Herbals

Julia Heideklang

10. Armadillo: An Animal in Search of a Place

Florencia Pierri

11. Bird: Living Names of Félix de Azara’s Lost Collection

Anna Toledano

12. Brain: Objecthood, Subjecthood, and the Genius of Gauss

Nicolaas Rupke

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Mackenzie Cooley is an intellectual historian who studies the uses, abuses, and understandings of the natural world in early modern history. She is an Assistant Professor of History at Hamilton College and Director of Latin American Studies.

Anna Toledano is a historian of science and a museum professional. Her academic research focuses on natural history collecting in eighteenth-century Spain and Spanish America.

Duygu Yildirim is a historian of knowledge working on the comparative and connected histories of science and medicine in the early modern Mediterranean and in the Ottoman Empire. She is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


"Natural Things is a creative, exciting, and genre-defying volume that helps readers to understand natural history more attentively and capaciously. The volume puts nature back into nature, and follows natural things across built environments, ecological niches, and academic fields, embracing the unruliness required if one puts them, rather than people, at the centre."

Surekha Davies, Ph.D. Researcher, Dept of History and Art History, Utrecht University, The Netherlands