Kate Mulry

  • Fellowship year:2013-2014
  • University: New York University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Early Modern/Atlantic
  • Dissertation Title: What Publique Improvement may bee made: The Administration of Nature and the Nature of Administration in the English Atlantic, 1660-1688
  •  My dissertation explores the manipulations of the landscape referred to by contemporaries as "improvements" in late-seventeenth-century England and North America.  Prevailing medical theories held that bodies were intimately connected to what was around them; illness as well as temperament of both individuals and polities was a complex and shifting terrain influenced by air breathed, seasonal climate, food consumed, and constellations below which lives were lived.  While nature had the power to shape human bodies and societies, humans likewise had the power to shape nature.  My work focuses on the tangible environmental transformations wrought by an expanding English empire.  By focusing on the material transformations as well as the accompanying rhetoric, I explore the close relationship between landscape improvement and the constitution of so-called "natural" subjects within England and its colonies.

    I argue that the gardeners, arborists, projectors, members of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, and officials in the newly restored government who manipulated the landscape through agriculture, fen drainage, arboriculture, and gardening frequently explained and understood their interventions in the landscape as shaping bodies as well as politic.  This reveals a deeply physical conception of the political subject.  While government intervention in public health may seem a recent phenomenon, residents of Restoration England and its colonies saw it as coming under its purview.  "Improving" initiatives were often intended to connect scattered settlements and peoples into a coherent, governable body.  In projects that manipulated the environment, the English government sought to articulate a vision of empire that fit together its heterogeneous subjects and landscapes.