Dr. Kathleen S. Murphy

Dr. Kate Murphy, History Department Associate ProfessorAssociate Professor
Colonial America, Atlantic World, History of Science
E-mail: ksmurphy@calpoly.edu
Office: Building. 47, Room 27G
Phone: (805) 756-2839




  • Johns Hopkins University, PhD
  • Johns Hopkins University, MA
  • University of Virginia, BA in History

Research and Teaching Interests

My areas of specialization are British Colonial America, the Atlantic World, and the History of Science. I am particularly interested in the history of natural history in the early modern British Atlantic. I offer classes in the history of colonial and revolutionary America, African American history, the Scientific Revolution, and science in the Atlantic World.  Additionally, I co-direct the History Department’s internship program.

My book project, Slaving Science: Natural Knowledge and the British Slave Trade, 1660-1807, examines the intersection of the history of science and the history of the British slave trade. It explores how the circulation of objects, ideas, and individuals through the networks of the slave trade engendered new scientific knowledge between 1660 and 1807. I argue that the particularities of the British slave trade shaped the knowledge produced through its networks and that scientific knowledge, in turn, influenced the development of the slave trade. To do so, I mine scientific treatises, slaving companies' records, and correspondence to tell the stories of British slaving and science largely absent from the existing scholarship.


(For links to these articles please see my Digital Commons page.)

  •  “Virginia’s Great Fresh of 1771 and the Politics of Disaster Relief,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, forthcoming.
  • “To Make Florida Answer to Its Name: John Ellis, Bernard Romans, and the Atlantic Science of British West Florida,” British Journal for the History of Science, forthcoming.
  • “Collecting Slave Traders: James Petiver, Natural History, and the British Slave Trade,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., vol. 70, no. 4 (Oct. 2013).
  •  “Ecosystems under Sail: Specimen Transport in the Eighteenth-Century French and British Atlantics,” Early American Studies, vol. 10, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 503-539. With Christopher M. Parsons.
              *winner of the John Murrin Prize for best article published in EAS in 2012
  • “Translating the Vernacular: Indigenous and African Knowledge in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic,” Atlantic Studies, vol. 8, no. 1 (2011): 29-48.
  • "The History of Atlantic Science: Collective reflections from the 2009 Harvard seminar on Atlantic history," Atlantic Studies, vol. 7, no. 4 (Dec. 2010): 493-509. With Marcelo Aranda, et at.
  • “Prodigies and Portents: Providentialism in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake,” Maryland Historical Magazine, 97, no. 4 (Winter 2002).
  • “Judge, Jury, Magistrate & Soldier: Rethinking Law and Authority in late Eighteenth-Century Ireland,” American Journal of Legal History, 44, no. 3 (July 2000).

Fellowships and Grants

  • 2013-2014 American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship
  • 2013-2014 Extramural Funding Initiative, California Polytechnic State University
  • 2013-2014 Dibner Research Fellowship in the History of Science & Technology, Huntington Library (declined)
  • 2013 State Faculty Support Grant, California Polytechnic State University
  • 2012 State Faculty Support Grant, California Polytechnic State University (awarded but funding suspended)
  • 2009 State Faculty Support Grant, California Polytechnic State University  
  • 2007 National Science Foundation Travel Grant, History of Science Society
  • 2005 Charles H. Watts Memorial Fellowship, John Carter Brown Library
  • 2004-2005 Johns Hopkins University Dean’s Teaching Fellowship
  • 2004 Rockefeller Library Fellow, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
  • 2004 David Library of the American Revolution Resident Fellow
  • 2004 Francois Andre Michaux Fund Library Resident Fellow, American Philosophical Society

Recent Conference Presentations

  • "How to be a Biopirate: A British Naturalist ‘Bioprospecting’ in Spanish America," History of Science Society Meeting, November 16, 2012.
  • "Collecting Slave Traders: James Petiver, Natural History, and Slavery in the British Atlantic World," 3-Societies Meeting (joint meeting of the British, Canadian, and American Societies for the History of Science), July 14, 2012.
  • "To Make Florida Answer to Its Name: John Ellis, the Royal Society, and the Cultivation of Empire," The Royal Society of London's 350th anniversary conference, "The Royal Society and the British Atlantic," London, September 30, 2010.
  • "Useful Hints and Vulgar Errors: Vernacular Knowledge and Natural History in Eighteenth-Century British Plantation Societies," The Atlantic History Seminar, Harvard University, "The Americas in the Advancement of European Science and Medicine, 1500-1830," August 6, 2009.
  • "Slaving and Collecting: Slave Ship Surgeons and the Pursuit of Natural History," Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture Fifteenth Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, June 14, 2009.
  • "Anonymous Collectors: Slaves, Native Americans, and the Pursuit of Natural History in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic," Society of Early Americanists Sixth Biennial Conference, Hamilton, Bermuda, March 5, 2009.

Awards and Honors

  • John M. Murrin Prize for best article published in Early American Studies for “Ecosystems under Sail,” (2012)
  • Cal Poly President’s Community Service Award (May 2011)
  • History Department Teacher of the Year Award (June 2008)


  • HIST 100 – Introduction to the Study of History
  • HIST 207 – Freedom and Equality in America (PDF)
  • HIST 320 – Colonial and Revolutionary America
  • HIST 350 – The Scientific Revolution
  • HIST 401 – Early America (PDF)
  • HIST 402 – American Revolution and the New Nation
  • HIST 405 – African American History to 1865
  • HIST 460 – Senior Project I
  • HIST 461 – Senior Project II=
  • HIST 467 – History Internship (PDF)
  • HIST 505 – Grad Seminar: Science & Nature in Early America
  • HIST 510- Grad Seminar: Science in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800
  • HIST 512 - Supervised Readings for Comprehensive Exams
  • HNRS 207 - Freedom and Equality in America
  • SCM 320 – Technology in London

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