New Worlds of Knowledge in the Early Modern Atlantic


Panel co-organizers: Sarah Rivett, Princeton University,

                                    Stephanie Kirk, Washington University,


During the early modern period, explorers, travelers, missionaries, and scientists linked new philosophies to new geographic discoveries. Gradually, the natural world as well as populations indigenous to the Americas became of commercial, spiritual, and philosophical interest, begging an adequate system of comprehension and organization through institutions such as libraries, Jesuit Colleges, missionary communities, printing presses, and plantations.  This panel sets intellectual history in an international context of Atlantic transit and exchange between Europe and the New World.  Specifically, we wish to think about the ways that Spanish, French, and British empires relied increasingly on the natural world to cultivate new philosophies.

We feel that one consequence of the overlap between Atlantic Studies and intellectual history is that scholars have moved past more traditional conceptions of colony and metropole in order to chart the disparate forms of epistemological transformation and innovation inaugurated between 1500 and 1800.  Natural philosophy and natural history not only became the instruments of empire but were also transformed alongside the colonial encounters of settler communities as they struggled to forge a correspondence between the lived reality of the New World experience and the conventions, identities, and cultures of the Old World.  Since Spain began the Atlantic age of exploration in the sixteenth century, the natural world revealed a host of licit as well as illicit secrets in distant places.  Observation and reports of nature’s newly discovered treasures produced curiosities that entered into a system of Atlantic circulation and transit.  An age of Enlightenment emerged out of this nexus of new philosophies and new world locations, producing a complex system of knowledge that we have come to understand geographically rather than universally and in spatial as well as temporal terms.


Send 250-word paper abstracts to Sarah Rivett at or Stephanie Kirk at by Friday, September 7, 2012.