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Mackenzie Cooley

Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow​, Cornell Society of Fellows

Mackenzie Cooley


I am a scholar of early modern history with a particular interest in the Columbian Exchange. One strand of my work considers the history of ideas in Renaissance Italy and the Spanish Empire, especially the role that practice and experience played in informing theories about nature. Another strand of my developing research focuses on history with science, particularly the ways in which genetics and bioarchaeological evidence can provide new datasets for historians to transcend archival sources.
My current book project, Artifice Embodied: The Invention of Race in the Iberian Empires, traces ideas of breeding, inheritance, and race to analyze how projects for bringing the Old World to the New intersected with utopian trends in Renaissance thought. Modern concepts of race originated in early modern thinking about animals and humans together. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, husbandmen started applying the term “race” to animals bred in systematic projects. These husbandmen and their patrons considered “race” to be the result of intentional selection in breeding rather than an essential identity inherent to plants, animals, and humans. Using archival sources in European and Mesoamerican languages along with bioarchaeological evidence, I analyze how this zoological terminology of animal difference came to characterize human difference and spread throughout the Iberian empires. European ideas of breeding both influenced the principles by which good traits were selected and shaped taxonomic categories for both humans and animals. While at Cornell, I will be expanding this research using additional evidence from the Spanish Atlantic and Pacific Islands.
At Stanford, I founded Natural Things|Ad Fontes Naturae, a global natural history project based in the Program in History and Philosophy of Science. Through this project and my individual research, I am committed to revealing non-Europeans’ contributions to the history of science. Biology, zoology, and ecology developed from the exploration of colonial Latin America with the effect that indigenous Mesoamerican structures of knowledge influenced European natural history.
I completed my Ph.D. in Stanford University’s Department of History in 2018. This spring, I will be a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin before taking up an assistant professorship at Hamilton College. My research has been supported by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), Fulbright Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and Renaissance Society of America.


Spring 2020

Fall 2020