Rebecca Woods

Assistant Professor

University of Toronto

Fellow, Society of Fellows in the Humanities 2015 - 16

My research focuses on technology and environment in the nineteenth century, particularly how commerce, science, and technology shape and mediate human interactions with the nonhuman world. My first book, The Herds Shot Round the World: Native Breeds and the British Empire (forthcoming 2017), examines how breeds of sheep and cattle circulated and were altered under imperial conditions in the nineteenth century. As colonial agropastoralism expanded, and especially with the advent of viable refrigeration technology in the 1870s and 1880s, the assumed connection between breed and locale underwent seismic shifts as sheep and cattle were re-bred to suit both new lands and the refrigerated holds of ocean liners.

My next project will be epistemological and environmental history of cold, provisionally entitled Suspended Animation: Science, Nature and the Economy of Cold. This work traces ideas of, and engagements with, cold itself through scientific experimentation with low temperatures, arctic exploration, and the commoditization of ice and cold in the nineteenth century. Sometimes a structuring limit to human endeavor, at others an obstacle to be overcome, or a profitable resource upon which to be capitalized, cold served both as a phenomenological reality and increasingly as an object of inquiry and exchange in the imperial world of the nineteenth century. Scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and an avid consuming public each engaged with, and in so doing, reshaped understandings of cold as a basic element of the natural world and one that structured much of human existence.