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Faculty Photo
Photo Credit: Nick Romanenko
Front row: (L-R) Nancy Sinkoff, Paul Hanebrink, James Delbourgo, Rudy Bell, Paul Israel, Paul G. E. Clemens
2nd: Judith Surkis, Matt Matsuda, Carolyn Brown, Johanna Schoen, Walter Rucker, Marisa Fuentes, Bayo Holsey, Samantha Kelly, Toby C. Jones
3rd: Jackson Lears, Seth Koven, Gail Triner, Ann Fabian, Barbara M. Cooper, Temma Kaplan, Melissa Feinberg
Last: Louis Masur, Jamie Pietruska, Mark Wasserman, David Greenberg, Alastair Bellany, Steven Reinert, Deborah Gray White, Norman Markowitz, John W. Chambers, Virginia Yans, Leah DeVun, Camilla Townsend, Sarolta Takacs, Don Roden


James Delbourgo

Associate Professor: History of Science
and Atlantic World

Ph.D., Columbia, 2003

M.Phil., Cambridge, 1997

B.A., University of East Anglia, 1996

At Rutgers since 2008

104 Van Dyck Hall
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James Delbourgo was born in Great Britain and educated at the University of East Anglia, Cambridge (Christ's College) and Columbia. He previously taught at McGill in Montreal, where he directed the program in History and Philosophy of Science, and was Visiting Professor of History of Science at Harvard in 2016. His research combines the history of science with imperial and global history and the history and sociology of collecting and museum studies.

His first book explored the practice of bodily electrical experimentation in colonial British America and the early United States, including but moving beyond the figure of Benjamin Franklin, and assessing the larger meaning of the American Enlightenment through transatlantic and Creole scientific culture. Since then, he has co-edited two collections of essays: one on Iberian, French and British perspectives on science and empire in the early modern Atlantic world; and the other on the role of go-betweens in making scientific knowledge across the globe during the decades around the turn of the nineteenth century. He has also published essays on underwater collecting and Caribbean salvage diving in the seventeenth century; on Jamaican natural history, cacao and the invention of milk chocolate; on the use of Newtonian optical theory and anatomical dissection to theorize African skin color in 1740s Virginia; on the dyeing, novelistic and chemical projects of the loyalist spy Edward Bancroft in Dutch Guiana during the era of the American Revolution; a co-edited focus section in the journal Isis on the scientific use of lists in the early modern era; and a co-edited special issue of Annals of Science on the history and philosophy of species in early modern science.

Delbourgo has published magazine essays in English, French and German, including articles on contemporary art collecting and hoarding in the Los Angeles Review of Books and Chronicle of Higher Education Review; and on Benjamin Franklin and the Cold War origins of American science historiography in the Raritan Quarterly. An essay on the relationship between curiosity collecting, abolitionism and slavery appeared in the catalogue for a recent exhibition called "Assoziationsraum Wunderkammer" in Halle, Germany, featuring work by David Lynch, Lars von Trier and others. Delbourgo is a member of the editorial board of the journal History of Science.

His new book, Collecting the World, explores global natural history collecting and the career of Hans Sloane, which culminated in the foundation of the British Museum in 1753, the first public encyclopedic museum in the world. The book examines Sloane's career from his background in Ulster and voyage to the slave society of Jamaica to his creation of a network of collectors who gathered curiosities throughout the world, making possible the establishment of the British Museum. It draws on the histories of science, medicine and collecting, as well as Caribbean, imperial and global histories, and is based on extensive research in Sloane's surviving specimens, objects, manuscripts and catalogues in London's Natural History Museum, the British Museum and the British Library. The book is the first study of Sloane in over 60 years, published by Penguin in the UK and Harvard’s Belknap Press in the US and Canada.

Delbourgo's John Carter Brown Library exhibit on Sloane's Jamaica voyage, entitled "Voyage to the Islands," (2012) is viewable online. In 2017, he will deliver a Levintritt Lecture at the Harvard Art Museums in relation to the exhibit “The Philosophy Chamber.”

His teaching includes history of science, Atlantic world history, collecting and museums, the Enlightenment, and global history. For a graduate syllabus on 'Collecting the World: Assembling Objects from Antiquity to the Present', see here.

The working titles of current projects are The Knowing World: Globalizing the History of Science; Moving Pictures; and What is a Collector?



  • 506:251 Science and Society
  • 510:321 Age of Enlightenment
  • 510:340 British Atlantic World
  • 512:103 Development of US I



  • Thomas J. Wilson Prize, Harvard University Press, for A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders, 2006.
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Standard Research Grant, “Beyond the New Atlantis,” 2005-2009.


  • Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art Publication Grant, 2014.
  • American Philosophical Society/British Academy Fellowship, 2013.
  • Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Fall 2013.
  • Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, Fall 2011.
  • Rutgers University, Center for Cultural Analysis, 2009.
  • University of Cambridge: Visiting Fellow, CRASSH, Lent 2008.
  • University of Pennsylvania: Dissertation Fellow, McNeil Center, 2001-2002.
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“Enlisting People,” in “Listmania,” Isis forum, co-ed. Staffan Müller-Wille (Dec. 2012).

“Collecting Hans Sloane,” in From Books to Bezoars (London: British Library Books, 2012)

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