Mackenzie Cooley

Mackenzie Cooley

Deborah Loeb Brice Fellow
Treasury of Knowledge: Medicine in Renaissance Empire
Cooley, MacKenzie


Mackenzie Cooley is an intellectual historian who studies the uses, abuses, and understandings of the natural world in early modern science and medicine. She received her doctorate from Stanford University where she completed the dissertation “Animal Empires: The Perfection of Nature Between Europe and the Americas, 1492-1630,” which was awarded the 2019 Cappadocia Prize. She returned to her alma mater Cornell University as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in 2018. Her first book, with the University of Chicago Press, tells the history of Renaissance animal and human breeding projects that were imagined, articulated, and partially enacted. She is Assistant Professor at Hamilton College.


Project Summary

Treasury of Knowledge: Medicine in Renaissance Empire weaves together the histories of European physicians and local medical experts, the medical commodities they used, and ideas of health to reveal a polycentric Iberian empire that rested on the interconnected medical expertise of its subjects. This revisionist account argues that the Iberian empire was motivated not solely by conquistadors’ obsession with gold, glory, and God, but also by a desperate search for good health. New territories brought new local expertise and medicines, which would in turn foster a healthy population who might acquire yet more lands in a cycle of conquest and cures. Given the high stakes, it was no wonder that imperial administrators, wealthy families, and local lords dispatched some of their best medical contacts onto vessels that set sail for the East and West Indies. Though marred by violence and unequal power relations, an informal network of medical practitioners – including Spanish, Portuguese, and Italians connected through a Medical Republic of Letters – worked in this new imperial framework to develop the first global pharmacopeia to confront the catastrophic health consequences of early globalization. In light of the symbiotic relationship between Italian intellectual culture and medical and nature studies in the Iberian World, this study depends on archival research in numerous Italian collections.