Mackenzie Cooley, "The Perfection of Nature: Animals, Breeding, and Race in the Renaissance" (U Chicago Press, 2022)


The Renaissance is celebrated for the belief that individuals could fashion themselves to greatness, but there is a dark undercurrent to this fêted era of history. The same men and women who offered profound advancements in European understanding of the human condition—and laid the foundations of the Scientific Revolution—were also obsessed with controlling that condition and the wider natural world.

Tracing early modern artisanal practice, Mackenzie Cooley shows how the idea of race and theories of inheritance developed through animal breeding in the shadow of the Spanish Empire. While one strand of the Renaissance celebrated a liberal view of human potential, another limited it by biology, reducing man to beast and prince to stud. “Race,” Cooley explains, first referred to animal stock honed through breeding. To those who invented the concept, race was not inflexible, but the fragile result of reproductive work. As the Spanish empire expanded, the concept of race moved from nonhuman to human animals. Cooley reveals how, as the dangerous idea of controlled reproduction was brought to life again and again, a rich, complex, and ever-shifting language of race and breeding was born.

Adding nuance and historical context to discussions of race and human and animal relations, The Perfection of Nature: Animals, Breeding, and Race in the Renaissance (U Chicago Press, 2022) provides a close reading of undertheorized notions of generation and its discontents in the more-than-human world.

Rachel Pagones is an acupuncturist, educator, and author. Before moving to the UK in 2021 she was chair of the doctoral program in acupuncture and Chinese medicine at Pacific College of Health and Science in San Diego.

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Rachel Pagones

Rachel Pagones is an acupuncturist, educator, and author based in Cambridge, England.

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