Final Public Oral Exam: Florencia Pierri

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
May 16, 2022 - 1:00pm
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

Beastly Encounters: Animals in Early Modern Europe


Anthony Grafton, adviser
Angela Creager
Jennifer Rampling
He Bian
Surekha Davies, Utrecht University

Location (Hybrid):

In-person (RSVP required) or Zoom


In early modern Europe, the discipline of natural history was in flux. New plants, new animals, new texts, and new experiences challenged how Europeans understood the natural world. Beastly Encounters: Animals in Early Modern Europe explores how non-European animals provoked a reorientation in how Europeans studied natural history in the early modern period. It begins with the indigenous American animals encountered by early Spanish travelers to the Americas, and how they were understood as one of the many novelties coming from Spain’s new conquests in the region. Then, it looks at how these animals were included in localized natural histories and travel books written not only by Spaniards, but also by other European authors who also had an interest not only in describing the often striking and fantastical creatures of the American continent, but also in trying to fit what were once seen as monsters, outside of the normal order of creation, into European categories that often had no place for them. The dissertation then turns to the issue of classification and the northern European authors of natural histories who tried to systematically include American animals into encyclopedic treatises of natural history that described the world in its entirety. These were often eclectic amalgamations of borrowing from ancient works of natural history, medieval bestiaries, and contemporaneous travel books that stressed empiricism and eyewitness accounts. Finally, the dissertation turns to a new program of systematic anatomies of exotic animals performed in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries which stimulated the development and application of experimental and empirical methods in natural history.

The dissertation concludes by showing that with this focus on the dissection of animal bodies, natural history and natural philosophy began to merge as the traditional interests of the former combined with the newly developing tools and methods of the latter. Beastly Encounters ultimately argues that the strategies developed in the sixteenth century for dealing with new animals from the American continent were coupled with the strategies developed in scientific societies in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to create a new way of reading the book of nature.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Contact Lee Horinko for a copy of the dissertation and the Zoom meeting link and password.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Non-Princeton community members are asked to attend virtually using Zoom. Princeton in-person attendees are asked to submit the RSVP form prior to attending.