Doctoral Candidate

Entered 2017

Cohen Hall, 330


B.A. History, Columbia University, with honors

M.Phil History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, with distinction

Claire Sabel works on the relationship between global commerce and the earth sciences in the early modern period, with a focus on the trade in mineral commodities. Her dissertation investigates how the Indian Ocean gem-trade influenced knowledge of the earth in both Southeast Asia and Europe. Her research focusing on the writings of Irish natural philosopher Robert Boyle was included in Gems in the Early Modern World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) and on the requests for minerals at the 17th c. court of Ayutthaya was published in New Hearth Histories (Chicago, 2024).

In spring 2024 she is a pre-doctoral fellow in Dept II at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Her research in the UK, Netherlands, Indonesia and India in 2022-23 was awarded a Fulbright-Hays fellowship and a National Science Foundation DDRIG grant. Her work has also been supported by the Huntington Library, Folger Library, the Geological Society of America, the Lisa Jardine grant of the Royal Society in London, CHSTM and the Science History Institute. 

She is also interested in the ways that women's participation in early modern economic life offered opportunities to cultivate knowledge about the natural world. She is developing a second project along these lines based on microhistorical case studies. An exploratory effort investigating 18th century female fossil collector involves collaborating with artist Alix Pentecost-Farren (whose illustration is featured in the background of the above profile photo) and received Penn's Sachs Program in Arts Innovation, and a GAPSA-Provost Interdisciplinary Innovation fellowship.

In addition to her research, she is particularly interested in the role that histories of science, technology, and medicine play in secondary and higher education in history and STEM. From 2017-2020, she co-led the Science Beyond the West working group at Penn which addressed issues of pedagogy, historiography, methods and sources. Before coming to Penn, she was a Research Associate with the Making and Knowing Project at Columbia (see our contribution to Reassembling Scholarly Communications (MIT, 2020), an intern with AAAS's Scientific Responsibility program, and Project Manager for Columbia's Center for Science and Society and History in Action initiative.


Research Interests

History of the earth sciences, early modern globalization, Southeast Asia, minerals, cross-cultural trade, K-12 education

Selected Work

Research Publications

"'Glass Worke': Precious Minerals and the Archives of the Early Modern Earth Sciences," in Alison Bashford, Emily Kern, and Adam Bobbette eds., New Earth Histories: Geocosmologies and the Making of the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press2023, 145-162

"The Impact of European Trade with Southeast Asia on the Mineralogical Studies of Robert Boyle," in Michael Bycroft and Sven Dupré eds. Gems in the Early Modern World: Materials, Knowledge and Global Trade, 1450–1800. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, 87-116

Co-authored with Pamela Smith, Tianna Uchacz, and Naomi Rosenkranz, “The Making of Empirical Knowledge: Recipes, Craft, and Scholarly Communication,” in Jonathan Gray and Martin Paul Eve eds. Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020, 125-144 [pdf]


Public Writing & Press

"Intuition and Mediation," Weaving Knowledge blog, October 5, 2019

Collaborative Pedagogies, Penn Today, November 15, 2019

"Lou Henry Hoover, Lost in Translation," Distillations magazine, April 19 2021

Whose Science, Whose History? Why the History of Science Matters,” with Shireen Hamza, Science in the News, Harvard University, May 13, 2021 (poster design by Corena Loeb)

Historical tools for astronomical observation are reflected in a body of water. The reflection shows modern astronomical instruments

"Gems in the Archives," Royal Society blog, January 4, 2022

"Moles and Diamonds", Royal Society blog, April 19, 2022

"The Fossil Hunter," Penn Today, June 13, 2022

"From Ashes to Ashes," Materialized Histories, October 28, 2022

"Colonization and Decolonization of Natural Resources" [in Bahasa/English], Kata Eutenika, May 2, 2023


Courses Taught

I have been a Teaching Assistant for:

STSC/HSOC 001, The Origins of Modern Science (Fall 18)

STSC 208, Science and Religion in Global Perspective (Spring 19)

HSOC 002, Medicine in History (Fall 19)

STSC 160, Information Age (Spring 20)

Faculty Bookshelf