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
ON LEAVE 2013-2014
James Delbourgo is a historian of early modern science and the Atlantic world. He previously taught at McGill University, Montreal, where he directed the program in History and Philosophy of Science. His interests range from physical science and experiment to natural history and travel, and the intersections between them in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including topics such as history of the body; experimental apparatus; collecting, ethnography, and race; and the movement of objects, specimens and techniques through imperial and global networks.
He is completing a book on Hans Sloane, which explores early modern collecting as a function of global travel and cross-cultural exchange. The book’s central argument is that collecting objects entailed the collection of people: from the commercial networks that furnished specimens and curiosities to emergent ideas about ethnicity and race, to the forms of collective social life these collections generated in London – from a private gentleman’s cabinet to the world’s first public museum. Part one centers on Sloane’s voyage to Jamaica (1687-1689), his interactions with the African diaspora, and assembly of Caribbean specimens and artifacts. Part two analyzes his subsequent London career (1689-1740s) as the hub of a global network from India and China to North America and the West Indies. The book thus takes a classic Enlightenment question about the pursuit of universal knowledge through encyclopedic collecting and turns it inside out, exploring the entanglement of major “western” intellectual institutions with Atlantic and global histories. Grounded in close study of hundreds of original specimens, objects and manuscripts in the British Museum, Natural History Museum and British Library, this research has been generously assisted by “Reconstructing Sloane” – an ongoing multi-year collaboration between all three institutions and Cambridge University to develop innovative humanities research methods combining objects, specimens, images and manuscripts for future histories of science, medicine, collecting and ethnography. The book will be published in 2015 by Allen Lane/ Penguin in the UK and Belknap/ Harvard 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.
At Rutgers, he is active in the Program in the History of Science, Technology, Environment and Health (STEH), and its speaker series. With Toby Jones he will co-direct the RCHA program for 2012-2014, entitled “Networks of Exchange: Mobilities of Knowledge in a Globalized World.” His teaching includes history of science & science studies, history of collecting, the Enlightenment, Atlantic world, early American and colonial history. In 2013, he taught a graduate colloquium on 'Collecting the World: Assembling Objects from Antiquity to the Present': read the syllabus here.
He has never personally handled an electric eel.
COURSES REGULARLY TAUGHT
- 506:251 Science and Society
- 510:321 Age of Enlightenment
- 512:103 Development of US I
- A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America (Harvard, 2006).
- Science and Empire in the Atlantic World, co-editor with Nicholas Dew (Routledge, 2007).
- The Brokered World: Go-Betweens and Global Intelligence, 1770-1820, co-editor with Simon Schaffer, Lissa Roberts and Kapil Raj (Science History Publications, 2009).
- "Atomic Franklin: Cold War Origins of American Science Histories," Raritan Quarterly (forthcoming).
- "Art is For Lovers," Los Angeles Review of Books, 7 July 2013.
- "Introduction" and "Listing People," in "Listmania": Isis Focus Section (Dec. 2012): 710-752.
- "The Newtonian Slave Body: Racial Enlightenment in the Atlantic World," Atlantic Studies 9 (June 2012): 185-208.
- "Collecting Hans Sloane," in From Books to Bezoars (London: British Library Books, 2012).
- Divers Things: Collecting the World Under Water,” History of Science 49 (June 2011): 149-185.
- “What’s in the Box?” Cabinet Magazine 41 (April 2011).
- "Sir Hans Sloane's Milk Chocolate and the Whole History of the Cacao," Social Text 29 (Mar. 2011): special issue on "interspecies."
- “Gardens of Life and Death,” British Journal for the History of Science 43, (Mar. 2010): 113-118.
- “Exceeding the Age in Every Thing: Placing Sloane’s Objects,” Spontaneous Generations: A Journal for the History and Philosophy of Science 2 (Nov. 2009): invited essay on “epistemic boundaries.”
- “Fugitive Colours: Shamans’ Knowledge, Chemical Empire and Atlantic Revolutions,” in The Brokered World, ed. Schaffer, et al. (2009).
- “Science,” in David Armitage and Michael Braddick, eds., The British Atlantic World, second edition (Palgrave, 2009).
- “‘Very much in the Dark About Light’: Franklin, Lumières et Critiques,” Transatlantica: revue d’études américaines 2 (2009).
- “When the Printer Met the Virtuoso,” Reviews in American History 36 (Dec. 2008): 485-492.
- “The Electrical Machine in the American Garden” and introduction, Science and Empire in the Atlantic World, co-ed. Nicholas Dew (Routledge, 2007), 255-280, 1-28.
- “Slavery in the Cabinet of Curiosities: Hans Sloane’s Atlantic World,” website of the British Museum (2007).
- “Underwater-works: Voyages and Visions of the Submarine,” Endeavour 31 (Sept. 2007): 115-120.
- “Leviathan and the Atlantic,” History of Science 43 (Mar. 2005): 101-107.
- “Common Sense, Useful Knowledge, and Matters of Fact in the Late Enlightenment: The Transatlantic Career of Perkins’s Tractors,” William and Mary Quarterly 61 (Oct. 2004): 643-684.
- “Political Electricity: The Occult Mechanism of Revolution,” Common-Place: The Interactive Journal of Early American Life 5:1 (Oct. 2004).
- 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.
- American Philosophical Society/British Academy Fellowship, 2013.
- Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Fall 2013.
- Member, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, Fall 2011.
- Rutgers University: Faculty Fellow, Center for Cultural Analysis, “Evidence and Explanation in the Arts and Sciences,” 2009.
- University of Cambridge: Visiting Fellow, CRASSH, Lent 2008.
- University of Pennsylvania: Dissertation Fellow, McNeil Center, 2001-2002.