Department of History

  • Portrait (head shot photo)
  • James Delbourgo
  • James Westfall Thompson Distinguished Professor of History
  • Degree: Ph.D., Columbia, 2003
  • Additional Degree(s): M.Phil., Cambridge, 1997 B.A., University of East Anglia, 1996
  • Rutgers : At Rutgers since 2008
  • Specialty: Early Modern Atlantic World: History of Science
  • Email: jdelbourgo@history.rutgers.edu
  • Office: 104 Van Dyck Hall
  • Phone: 848-932-8548

 

RESEARCH INTERESTS

James Delbourgo is a historian and writer who works on collecting and museums both past and present, the history of science, global history and the history of the Atlantic World. He is currently working on several projects including a history of collectors called The Dark Side of Collectingunder contract with W.W. Norton & Co.Divers Things on the cultural history of underwater exploration, the body and swimming; and The Knowing World, a new global approach to the history of science. For Delbourgo's keynote lecture on "the knowing world" for the 2020 BSHS Global Digital Festival, see here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/keynote-james-delbourgo.

Delbourgo was born in England to Italian parents and educated at the University of East Anglia, Cambridge (Christ's College), Penn and Columbia. He previously taught at McGill in Montreal, where he directed the program in History and Philosophy of Science; was Visiting Professor of History of Science at Harvard in 2016; and is an associate of that department. He is based in New York City.

His most recent book, Collecting the World (2017), explores global natural history collecting through the career of Hans Sloane, which culminated in the foundation of the British Museum in 1753. It is based on 15 years of research in Sloane's surviving London collections in collaboration with the British Museum.

Published by Penguin in the UK and Harvard in the US, the book won four prizes (see below), made four shortlists, and was named Book of the Week in the Guardian, London Times, Daily Mail and The Week Magazine, and one of Apollo Magazine's Books of the Year; featured in BBC Radio’s Today Programme and NPR’s Leonard Lopate Show, the British Museum and BBC History Magazine podcasts, Science Magazine and Smithsonian Magazine; and reviewed in the New York Times, New York Review of Books, New Republic, Financial Times, the Spectator, the Economist, the Lancet, Daily Telegraph, Irish Times, Nature Magazine and Art Quarterly. Delbourgo has lectured on Sloane & the British Museum in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Jamaica and the US.

Delbourgo writes for a variety of magazines. Recent essays range in subject from Arab world space programs to Russo-Asian de-extinction projects; and different kinds of art and scientific collecting from early modern Korea to Gilded Age America and contemporary art. An essay on the relationship between curiosity collecting and Atlantic slavery appeared in the catalogue for Assoziationsraum Wunderkammer, an exhibition in Halle, Germany, which featured work by David Lynch and Lars von Trier. In addition to Cabinet Magazine, Apollo and The Atlantic, most recently Delbourgo has written for the Times Literary SupplementLiterary Review and London Review of Books.

Delbourgo's first book explored electrical experimentation in colonial British America; he has published scholarly research essays on underwater exploration in the Caribbean, racial anatomy in the Enlightenment, the chemistry of dyes, the natural history of milk chocolate, the function of scientific lists, and numerous reviews. He has co-edited two volumes of essays on Atlantic world science and go-betweens in the history of science.

Delbourgo continues to work as a consultant with the British Museum on presenting the historic links between Sloane and his collections to slavery, the African diaspora and the British Empire for the general public. This work has recently included acknowledging Sloane's connections to the slave trade on the British Museum website, co-curating new material for the museum's Enlightenment Gallery and contributing to podcasts with BM director Hartwig Fischer. Delbourgo has also advised London's Natural History Museum and the British Library on curating Sloane's links to slavery. Delbourgo's guest-curated John Carter Brown Library exhibit on Sloane's Jamaica voyage, entitled "Voyage to the Islands," (2012) is viewable online.

His teaching includes history of science, Atlantic history, collecting and museums, the Enlightenment, and global history. For sample graduate syllabi, see here. He welcomes applications from graduate students to work on history of science broadly defined in relation to global and imperial history; interdisciplinary histories of collecting; and cultural histories of water.

COURSES REGULARLY TAUGHT

Undergraduate

  • 506:250 Science, Collecting and Power
  • 506:251 Science and Society
  • 510:321 Age of Enlightenment
  • 512:103 Development of US I

SELECT PUBLICATIONS

AWARDS

  • Hughes Prize for best scholarly book in history of science accessible to the general public, British Society for the History of Science, 2019
  • Annibel Jenkins Biography Prize, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 2019
  • Leo Gershoy Award, 17th-18th Century European History, American Historical Association, 2018
  • Louis Gottschalk Prize, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 2018
  • William M.B. Berger Prize in British Art History Shortlist, UK, 2018
  • Longman-History Today Shortlist, UK, 2018
  • Kenshur Prize, Indiana University, Shortlist, 2018
  • PROSE Awards, American Association of Publishers, Honorable Mention, 2018
  • Book of the Week in the Guardian, The Times (London), Daily Mail and The Week Magazine (UK)
  • An Apollo Magazine Book of the Year, 2017
  • 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.

SELECT FELLOWSHIPS

  • 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)

Upcoming Events

Tue Sep 22 @11:00AM - 01:00PM
Julien Musolino: RCHA Seminar
Fri Sep 25 @10:00AM - 01:00PM
Yesenia Barragan: High School Teachers Institute
Mon Sep 28 @ 2:00PM - 03:30PM
Jessica M. Johnson: CCA book talk
Tue Sep 29 @11:00AM - 01:00PM
Risa Cromer: RCHA Seminar
Wed Sep 30 @11:00AM - 12:30PM
Harshan Kumarasingham: Center for European Studies
Tue Oct 06 @11:00AM - 01:00PM
Evelyn Hammonds: RCHA Seminar

Undergraduate

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