Natalie is a final year PhD candidate in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. She is researching exotic animals in early modern natural history.
Numerous exotic animals were brought to Europe for the first time in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a result of expanding global exploration and trade. They circulated around Europe as fragmentary objects picked up by curiosity collectors, images and pieces of information. Many historical narratives suggest that these exotic novelties, especially those depicted as 'monsters', acted as challenges to European conceptions of the world.
The construction and depiction of several new creatures, including the birds of paradise, dodo, walrus, pangolin and armadillo, in collections, natural history publications and associated media tells a different story. Novel beasts were actively made into 'exotics' and 'monsters' by naturalists in order to give them value. They were mutable and malleable things, virtually constructed from body parts, travel tales and other fragments in texts.
Rather than acting as disruptive elements, these commercially valuable objects and images provided flexible tools for shaping cosmologies, geographies and taxonomies. The intertwining of commercial and scientific activity in this period did not cause the emblematic outlook or wonder to be excised from natural science. Rather, exotic monsters were used prolifically in the production of diverse exotic commodities, and in the formation of new relationships between Europe and the rest of the world.