Deborah HarknessProfessor of History
Phone: (213) 821-2604
Office: SOS 161
Institute for British and Irish Studies
Deborah Harkness is a historian of science and medicine from antiquity to the present. A specialist in the period from 1400-1700, she is fascinated by how the study of the natural world traveled from the universities of the Middle Ages, through the libraries and royal courts of the Renaissance, into the cities and homes of early modern Europe, and then finally arrived in the learned academies of the Enlightenment. Rather than focusing on the end-points of this journey (the medieval university and the enlightened scientific academy), she studies the many spaces that students of nature passed through along the way in search of an ideal place to do scientific work.
Her first book, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels , examined how a single Renaissance figure found answers to his questions about the natural world in his library and private study by turning to magic. Her second book, The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution , explores the thriving, complicated scientific culture that could be found on the streets of the city that was home to both Shakespeare and Francis Bacon. Professor Harkness's new project, Living the Experimental Life in Early Modern Britain , seeks to understand the often uncomfortable intersection of scientific and domestic cultures in the 17th century and argues that in houses all over England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the Americas science proved to be an unwelcome guest. At the same time, however, experimental science profited enormously from its hiatus in the home where kitchen equipment could be adapted to new chemical purposes, servants and other household members could be employed as laboratory assistants and subjects, and women could be relied on to manage the complicated business of science in addition to their already overwhelming domestic responsibilities.
Professor Harkness teaches courses on early modern cultural and intellectual history, including the survey in early modern European history and upper-division undergraduate courses on the history of Tudor and Stuart England, the history of women, and the history of magic and science. In the future she hopes to offer courses on Renaissance Magic and Modern Popular Culture, on the History of London, and on the Experimental Life in Early Modern Europe. At the graduate level, she trains students as broadly as possible in early modern European history, and pays special attention to their acquisition of language skills, technical skills such as paleography, and teaching experience.