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 traveled 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.
Introduction: Natural Things in Early Modern Worlds
Mackenzie Cooley, Anna Toledano, and Duygu Yıldırım
On the Design
Zoë Sadokierski and Katie Dean
Part I: Manipulated
1. Pollen: The Sexual Life of Plants in Mesoamerica
2. Bezoar: Medicine in the Belly of the Beast
3. Canal: Cross-Cultural Encounters and Control of Water
4. Ambergris: From Sea to Scent in Renaissance Italy
Mackenzie Cooley and Kathryn Biedermann
Part II: Felt
5. Squid: Natural History as Food History
Whitney Barlow Robles
6. Coffee: Of Melancholic Turkish Bodies and Sensory Experiences
7. Manchineel: Power, Pain, and Knowledge in the Lesser Antilles
Thomas C. Anderson
8. Pitcher Plant: Drowning in her Sweet Nectar
Part III: Preserved
9. Leaf: The Materiality of Early Modern Herbals
10. Armadillo: An Animal in Search of a Place
11. Bird: Living Names of Félix de Azara’s Lost Collection
12. Brain: Objecthood, Subjecthood, and the Genius of Gauss
Epilogue: Nature’s Narratives
Afterword: The Disorder of Things
"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, Department of History and Art History, Utrecht University, the Netherlands
"What better can be said of a book than that it impels the reader to realize things are not as they seem, nor can they be easily categorized, especially not into binary classifications such as natural/unnatural, live/dead, human/nature, indigenous/exotic, west/east, and subject/object. This is a volume full of surprises, changelings, liminalities, and polyvalent meanings. In its capacious and always fascinating roving around the terrains, ecologies, and intersections of material culture, global exchange, environmental history, and the history of knowledge and science/nature studies, Natural Things will unsettle assumptions and introduce instabilities into seemingly fixed points of reference. Read it!"
Pamela H. Smith, PhD, Seth Low Professor of History, Columbia University, New York
"This excellent collection of essays brings alive crucial exchanges of ideas and objects that characterize the scientific and cultural history of the early modern world. Combining archival erudition, critical historiography, and imaginative visualization, this book is an inspiring new resource for teaching as well as further research. In evocative essays, we are reminded that ‘seeing’ things that make up various understandings of nature should be understood as an active pursuit, whether for us today or in the way we ascribe it to past peoples whose imaginations we try to bring to life in our work. The book provides one of the most successful cases I know for using images as crucial historical evidence rather than as indexical illustrations."
Shahzad Bashir, Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities, Brown University USA
"This visually arresting and all-absorbing book takes the reader on a kaleidoscopic journey across the world from the Pacific Islands to South Asia, from the Atlantic world to Europe and the Americas at a time in which humans profoundly redefined their relationship with the global natural world. By bringing material culture, ecology, technologies, science and economy into conversation, Natural Things defies disciplinary boundaries and redefines our understanding of nature. It does so by considering a number of surprising ‘things’, among which an pink edible animal and a carnivorous plant; an anti-poison stone and one of the most toxic plants; the produce of the intestines of a sperm whale and a delicious beverage to be sipped in company. After reading Natural Things, when you step out of your front door, you’ll never see the world with the same eyes, and you’ll notice ‘things’ that you had not appreciated before!"
Giorgio Riello, Professor of Early Modern Global History, European University Institute, Florence, Italy
[This book] pushes readers (…) to begin to ask questions about the natural histories of other organisms and to question more closely long-standing narratives about plant discovery and botany. It’s an interesting blend of more traditional history of science with the newer fields of critical plant studies and the plant humanities, which are also at work enriching our views of the floral world.