Early Stuart Projects and the Undisciplining of Knowledge
A reframing of how scientific knowledge was produced in the early modern world.
Many accounts of the scientific revolution portray it as a time when scientists disciplined knowledge by first disciplining their own behavior. According to these views, scientists such as Francis Bacon produced certain knowledge by pacifying their emotions and concentrating on method. In The Interlopers, Vera Keller rejects this emphasis on discipline and instead argues that what distinguished early modernity was a navigation away from restraint and toward the violent blending of knowledge from across society and around the globe.
Keller follows early seventeenth-century English "projectors" as they traversed the world, pursuing outrageous entrepreneurial schemes along the way. These interlopers were developing a different culture of knowledge, one that aimed to take advantage of the disorder created by the rise of science and technological advances. They sought to deploy the first submarine in the Indian Ocean, raise silkworms in Virginia, and establish the English slave trade. These projectors developed a culture of extreme risk-taking, uniting global capitalism with martial values of violent conquest. They saw the world as a riskscape of empty spaces, disposable people, and unlimited resources.
By analyzing the disasters—as well as a few successes—of the interlopers she studies, Keller offers a new interpretation of the nature of early modern knowledge itself. While many influential accounts of the period characterize European modernity as a disciplining or civilizing process, The Interlopers argues that early modernity instead entailed a great undisciplining that entangled capitalism, colonialism, and science.
About the Author
Vera Keller (EUGENE, OR) is a professor of history at the University of Oregon. She is the author of Knowledge and the Public Interest, 1575–1725.
"The Interlopers represents an important and innovative contribution to our understanding of projects, projectors, and projecting culture in early Stuart England. Keller argues convincingly that projecting was far more deeply embedded in the early Stuart court than has often been assumed. Projects were not the work of isolated, ambitious individuals struggling to gain access to crown patronage; they were the province of whole groups of elite patrons and courtiers, starting with the king. Keller is a leading scholar in the study of early modern projects, and her argument here promises to shape the scholarship on this topic in fundamental ways."
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