Associate Professor

(On leave 2024)

Cohen 361

Curriculum Vitæ


Ph.D. in the History of Science, Harvard University
M.A. in the History of Science, Harvard University
M.Phil. in Medieval History, University of Cambridge
B.A. in English and Medieval & Renaissance Studies, Wellesley College

I study the circulation of scientific objects and natural knowledge throughout central and western Eurasia and north Africa, from antiquity into the early modern period. I have a particular interest in how scientific ideas, practices, and objects traveled and were adapted to new settings, and philosophical treatises, archival material, literary texts, lyric, material objects, and images all inform my work. My first book, Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art (Penn, 2015), explored the history of automata in medieval Latin culture, where they appeared as gifts from foreign rulers in Baghdad and Damascus and at the courts of Constantinople and Shengdu, and demonstrated that artificial people and animals were ubiquitous in medieval culture, and that they were used to pose questions about identity, liveliness, and the ethics of knowledge and creation. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Huntington Library, the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science, Harvard University/Villa I Tatti, and other institutions. I have also published articles on the history of automata, the history of timekeeping technology, Roger Bacon and courtly science, pharmacobotany, and on concepts of artificial intelligence in the Middle Ages.

I am currently occupied with several projects: a reapprpaisal of the historiography of science and the importance of the medieval period, a study of monumental astronomical clocks and Christian temporality in late medieval Europe, a collaborative project (with Pamela Long) on Leonardo's Madrid Codex, and a study of courtly science in the medieval world.

Research Interests

My current projects explore temporality and periodization, and the role of Christian theology in the historiography of science. My second book, Necessary Inventions: Roger Bacon, the Middle Ages, and the Making of Modern Science examines all of these through the work of thirteenth-century philosopher Roger Bacon. The adoption of Arabic texts and ideas by Bacon helped configure his reputation in the early modern period as an experimental and technological visionary, revealing the ways in which invention and circulation inflect one another. A different project, on the mechanical clock and the codex, also takes up questions of technology and periodization, arguing that both need to be understood as chrono-technologies that were also central to the production and transmission of narratives of Christian universality. Finally, I am also working on my third book, about courtly science in the medieval world. Different courts (Latin Christian, Byzantine, Islamicate) between 750-1300 appear as case studies to identify how science was fostered and practiced at secular and religious courts, and the extent to which the natural knowledge pursued at courts—such as engineering, navigation, alchemy, and divination—was valued alongside text-based natural philosophical frameworks.

Selected Work

Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art (Philadelphia: Press of the University of Pennsylvania, 2015; paperback ed., 2016; audiobook, 2019). 


Affiliated Faculty, Middle East Center

Affiliated Faculty, Global Medieval Studies

Graduate Group, History Department

Graduate Group, English Department

Graduate Group, French, Italian, and German Studies

Teaching Fields

Medieval science, medicine, and technology; history of magic, divinatory sciences, alchemy; history of experience, experiment, and observation; scientific manuscripts and early printed books; robots & AI; history of the body; historiography of science

Courses Taught

Undergraduate courses:

  • Medicine, Magic, and Miracles
  • Science & Spectacle
  • Artificial Subjects
  • Why Not Magic?

Graduate courses:

  • Experience & Experiment
  • Periodization and Science
  • Visualizing Science

Faculty Bookshelf