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Cooley Initiates Natural Things Conference


Hamilton College welcomed an array of scholars to campus for the inaugural Natural Things Conference arranged and hosted by Mackenzie Cooley, assistant professor of history, from April 7 to 9. Over the course of three intensive days, attendees from institutions including Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania contributed their expertise to the overarching theme of the globality of knowledge creation within the history of science.

The conference offered paper workshopping sessions, which covered topics ranging from coffee and experiential knowledge-making in the early modern era to a study of the intersection of 19th century botanic studies and colonialism in the Asian island of Borneo. Five keynote speakers added valuable insights and allowed the greater Hamilton community to learn more about the objectives of the conference.

Iris Montero, Brown University visiting assistant professor, discussed her research on the importance of the hummingbird in colonial Mexico. University of Santa Cruz Assistant Professor Ben Breen presented his research regarding the mistaken identities of drugs in the early modern Portuguese empire. Washington and Lee Professor Nicolaas Rupke spoke as part of the Couper Lecture series about collection and museums in the age of Charles Darwin, and later Alan Mikhail, chair of the history department at Yale University, showcased the Ottoman Empire’s relation to a peripheral Egyptian province through the lens of environmental history. University of Toronto  Assistant Professor Rebecca Woods closed the conference proceedings with her intriguing keynote lecture pertaining to the role of frozen Pleistocene animals in the history of natural science.

Conference organizer Mackenzie Cooley ensured that her Hamilton students played an active role as well over the course of the conference. Kenan Akin ’19, Duncan Davies ’21, and Joy Zhang ’22 each delivered five-minute presentations pertaining to their final projects in Cooley’s spring course “History of Ideas: Science and Revolution from the Enlightenment to the Present.” In addition, Cooley highlighted the original research conducted by four of her research assistants. Kate Biedermann ’22 began the student presentations by tracing the globality of the bezoar stone trade and the materiality of knowledge in the early modern period. Edsel Llaurador ’19 presented on the importance of the agave plant through the lens of Diego Muñoz Camargo in the early Spanish colonial work The History of Tlaxcala. Antton De Arbeloa ’21 presented his original research conducted with Kayla Self ’21 on the classification of animals in colonial New Spain as studied in the multi-volume Relaciones geográficas.

The Natural Things Conference allowed established scholars and undergraduate students to participate together in three rigorous days of academic engagement, as well as recreational activities including an exploration of the Beinecke Lesser Antilles Collection led by Ali Zildjian ’19, an opening reception at the Wellin Museum with live music featuring Doc Woods and Steve Wu, and a tour of the Root Glen. Those departments that helped facilitate this conference include LITS, Digital Humanities Initiative, Humanities Center, the AHA! Making Scientific Knowledge group, history department, Asian studies, and the dean of faculty office.

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