1st Edition

Natural Things in Early Modern Worlds

Edited By Mackenzie Cooley, Anna Toledano, Duygu Yıldırım Copyright 2023
    418 Pages 101 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    418 Pages 101 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    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

    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 II: 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 III: 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

    Epilogue: Nature’s Narratives

    Paula Findlen

    Afterword: The Disorder of Things

    Alan Mikhail



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

    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 Yıldırım 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, 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.

    Maura Flannery, Herbarium World (August 2023)

    “The volume (…) offers a brilliant contribution to the study of non-European knowledge about nature. A rich and pathbreaking volume that, rather than simplifying, sketches a more complex and nuanced picture of the histories of early modern natural things and the humans they met along their ways"

    Lavinia Gambini, Journal of Early Modern History 27 (2023) 555–568.

    "Like any worthy Wunderkammer, to reap its finer rewards this eclectic collection demands close looking and deep reading, if not several return visits. Smartly designed, edited, and formatted in the manner of a weighty exhibition catalog, Natural Things in Early Modern Worlds falls into that venerable hybrid genre that since the Enlightenment has sought to marry art and nature. At the same time, it mimics a current trend in museography, wherein visual artists are invited to mount critical interventions within the museum’s galleries."

    Mark Thurner, Hispanic American Historical Review