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Helen Cowie - ePortfolio

Welcome to the ePortfolio of Helen Cowie.

I completed my PhD in the History Department at the University of Warwick. I began this research in 2004 and passed my viva on 14 March 2008. These pages contain information about me, my research, and my personal and professional development. If you have a particular interest in me, my work and my plans, you are welcome to contact me for more information at

About My Research

Department: History

Supervisors: Professor Anthony McFarlane and Dr. Rebecca Earle

Research topic:

My research examines the development of natural history in the Spanish Empire (1750-1850). I explore why the Spanish Crown promoted scientific institutions and expeditions and how naturalists fashioned a distinct professional identity for themselves in the Hispanic world. I situate Spanish engagement with natural history within an imperial context and suggest that Spain’s capacity to procure and exhibit exotic natural treasures reflected the potency of her imperial structures. One Spanish commentator, scrutinising the contents of the Real Gabinete de Historia Natural in 1788, gloried that ‘we have seen form this immense collection of singularities of nature, brought at considerable expense, not only from all regions of Europe, but also from Asia, Africa and America; so that all parts of the world may contribute to forming the most complete treasure of Natural History that exists in the universe’.

I am especially interested in the part that Spanish Americans played in this process and the ways in which the development of the natural sciences on the imperial periphery intersected with the evolution of Creole patriotism in the late colonial period. I consider how the creation, legitimisation and dissemination of scientific knowledge reflected broader questions of imperial power and national identity. I examine the ambiguous position of Creole (American-born Spanish) naturalists, who were simultaneously anxious to secure European recognition for their work, to celebrate the natural wealth of their homelands and, in some cases, to vindicate local forms of knowledge against universal European systems.


Funding: AHRC, The Arthur Mellon Foundation



I currently teach four groups of undergraduate students on the module 'Latin American Themes and Problems' at the University of Warwick. This is a survey course, covering the history of Latin America from 1492 to the present. Topics addressed include the Spanish conquest of Mexico and Peru, the development of slavery in colonial Brazil, the Independence of the Iberian colonies in the 1820s, Peronism in Argentina, the Cuban Revolution and Pinochet's Chile.








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