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With a resounding crash of nature-cultures, modernity began. Contact forced early modern Europeans steeped in Renaissance ideals to reckon with alternative visions of the natural world. Nature was not, as it happened, all the same as what they had found in Europe. Not only did Caribbean, Canary Island, and Mesoamerican communities rely on animals, plants, and minerals hitherto unknown to Europeans, but they developed distinct practical knowledge traditions around their environments.

Abstract

In Summer 2019, New World Nature student researchers at Hamilton College examined the relationships between natural things and their environments to reconstruct how early moderns learned from the nature in which they lived at the dawn of the biological disciplines. Student researchers Thomas Anderson ’20, Antton De Arbeloa ’21, Elizabeth Atherton ’22, Kate Biedermann ’22, and Kayla Self ’21 conducted original research in the history of science in Canada, the Dominican Republic, France, Puerto Rico, Spain, and the United States. Their findings will be published in forthcoming book appendices, edited volumes, monographs, co-authored articles, and digital venues throughout the next several years.

Project Website

  • Assistant Professor of History Mackenzie Cooley
  • Levitt Research Group, funded by a grant from the Winston Foundation
  • Digital Humanities Initiative Research Fellows
  • Library and Information Technology Services

Through these wide-ranging projects, students cultivated a variety of skills integral to research in the humanities. From the logistics of travel, to digital humanities visualizations, to how to record information about a site, archive, or document, they ventured into the depths of history. Their adventures into the many facts, things, and ideas left over from the past led to the collection of exciting new documents and narratives yet to be incorporated into our published knowledge of history. Students also gained useful skills about how to make meaning out of the opaque and distant. This, in the most fundamental sense, is the research of a historian: to make meaning out of the world around us and sew together stories that give purpose to our lives, selecting out the memories worth recording from the vast troves of past times. 

  • Archival research in the Canary Islands, France, Spain, and the United States 
  • Database development 
  • Digital visualization in programs including ArcGIS, Gephi, and Vikus Viewer image exploration tool
  • Document transcription in Spanish, French, Latin, Portuguese, German, Dutch, English, and Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) 
  • Early modern paleography, or the study of old types of handwriting in Spanish, French, Latin, English, and Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) 
  • Historical writing and analysis, including how to frame historical documents through narrative 
  • Pioneering a new method of “history of science with science” by drawing out connections between history and science, supplementing historical analysis with genomic data, biochemical research, and archaeological analysis 
  • Networking for research at conferences, archives, archeological sites, and other professional academic settings 
  • Travel for work outside of the United States, including to Spain, France, Canada, and the Dominican Republic 

  • A disappearance of medical knowledge, flora, fauna, and diverse cultures and people characterized European conquest in the Americas, shown by a new database of colonial documents. 
  • Hamilton Special Collections document reveals illicit medical trial using manchineel venom, the world’s most poisonous tree, on slaves in the 19th-century Caribbean. 
  • A new translation of an important 16th-century Mesoamerican history sheds light on La Malinche, an indigenous woman who translated for Hernan Cortés and has come to symbolize cultural and biological mixing in the Americas. 
  • Through a large database of European languages, the term “race” is shown to have animal origins in the Renaissance before coming to characterize human difference. 
  • The oldest European-style pharmacy in the Americas is in present-day Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Its drawers illuminate medical practice at the confluence of the New World and the Old.

New World Nature Website, hosted by Hamilton College

A Mestizo in Madrid: The History of Tlaxcala, 1581-1584. [Critical Edition and Translation of Diego Muñoz Camargo’s Corpus, To be Submitted to University of Texas Press by September 2020]

The Perfection of Nature: Animals, Humans, and the Renaissance Invention of Race [Monograph #1, Under Advance Contract, Chicago University Press]

“New World, New Nature: Animals and Natural History in the Relaciones Geográficas” [Article for Colonial Latin American Historical Review, In Preparation]

Natural Things: Ecologies of Knowledge in the Early Modern World Co-Editor with Anna Toledano and Duygu Yildirim [Edited Volume with Introduction and Two Chapters, To Be Submitted to Chicago University Press]

Reproducing an Empire: Sex, Medicine & Power in the Spanish Empire [Monograph #2, In Progress]

Knowing an Empire: Imperial Science in the Chinese and Spanish Empires, 1500-1800, Co-Editor with Huiyi Wu [Edited Volume with Introduction and Chapter, In Preparation]

“Animal Origins of Race in the Early Modern World” [Article, To Be Submitted to the American Historical Review by Autumn 2019]

Student Research Contributions

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Archival Research

  • Diversity Lost in the Relaciones Geográficas


    Antton De Arbeloa ’21, Levitt Fellow
    Research Types: Archival Research in Madrid and Seville; Database Creation; Maps in ArcGIS

    Outcomes: Relaciones Section of Website; Relaciones Database

  • Indigenous Difference: Race and Colonialism in the Lesser Antilles 1600-1800


    Elizabeth Atherton ’22, Levitt Fellow
    Research Types: Archival Research in Hamilton Collections; Digital Humanities Tool Development; Critical Translation Appendix

    Outcomes: Appendix in Critical Edition; Vikus Viewer Comparative Platform

  • Toxicology of Empire: Medicine, Poisons, and Colonial Power, 1650-1850


    Thomas Anderson ’20, Levitt Fellow
    Research Types: Archival Research; Co-Authored Chapter; Editing

    Outcomes: Featured chapter in Natural Things volume; field research in the Canaries and France

Field Research

  • Precedents of Island Imperialism: Nature, Sex, and Race in the Spanish Caribbean


    Kayla Self ’21, Levitt Fellow
    Research Types: Site-based Research in Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico; Database Creation

    Outcomes: Relaciones Database; field research in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico

Database Creation

  • The Crossroads of Animality and Humanity: The Evolution of Race in European Discourse, 1400-1700


    Kate Biedermann ’22, DHi CLASS Fellow
    Research Types: Database Creation; Digital Humanities Tool Development

    Outcomes: Race Section of NWN Website; Credited visualizations in published Natural Things and Perfection of Nature; managing NWN site

  • Diversity Lost in the Relaciones Geográficas


    Antton De Arbeloa ’21, Levitt Fellow
    Research Types: Archival Research in Madrid and Seville; Database Creation; Maps in ArcGIS

    Outcomes: Relaciones Section of Website; Relaciones Database

  • Precedents of Island Imperialism: Nature, Sex, and Race in the Spanish Caribbean


    Kayla Self ’21, Levitt Fellow
    Research Types: Site-based Research in Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico; Database Creation

    Outcomes: Relaciones Database; field research in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico

GIS & Mapping

  • Diversity Lost in the Relaciones Geográficas


    Antton De Arbeloa ’21, Levitt Fellow
    Research Types: Archival Research in Madrid and Seville; Database Creation; Maps in ArcGIS

    Outcomes: Relaciones Section of Website; Relaciones Database

Digital Humanities Tool Development

  • The Crossroads of Animality and Humanity: The Evolution of Race in European Discourse, 1400-1700


    Kate Biedermann ’22, DHi CLASS Fellow
    Research Types: Database Creation; Digital Humanities Tool Development

    Outcomes: Race Section of NWN Website; Credited visualizations in published Natural Things and Perfection of Nature; managing NWN site

  • Indigenous Difference: Race and Colonialism in the Lesser Antilles 1600-1800


    Elizabeth Atherton ’22, Levitt Fellow
    Research Types: Archival Research in Hamilton Collections; Digital Humanities Tool Development; Critical Translation Appendix

    Outcomes: Appendix in Critical Edition; Vikus Viewer Comparative Platform

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