Kathleen S. Murphy

Kathleen Murphy

Associate Dean for Student Success

College of Liberal Arts



  • Colonial America
  • Atlantic World
  • History of Science

Contact Information


  • Johns Hopkins University, PhD
  • Johns Hopkins University, MA
  • University of Virginia, BA

Research and Teaching Interests

My areas of specialization are the history of science, slavery studies, the British Atlantic World, Early America, the history of collecting, and the legacies of slavery. I am particularly interested in the intersection of the history of science and the slave economy in the early modern Atlantic World. I have taught a range of undergraduate and graduate courses including on the history of colonial and revolutionary America, African American history, the Scientific Revolution, science in the Atlantic World, and science museums. 

My book, Captivity's Collections: Science, Natural History and the Transatlantic British Slave Trade(UNC Press 2023) argues that naturalists exploited the routes of the eighteenth-century British slave trade to obtain thousands of scientific specimens. By combining naturalists’ correspondence, scientific texts, and museum catalogs with the records of slave traders and slaving companies, it reveals the entangled histories of the British transatlantic slave trade and natural history. It chronicles how British slave ship surgeons, mariners, and slave traders obtained seeds, shells, pressed plants, preserved animals, fossils, and other natural historical specimens from West Africa, the Americas, and the Atlantic Ocean. Specimens acquired by means of the slave trade joined British museums, botanic gardens, and herbaria, were depicted in natural historical texts, and were discussed in the halls of scientific societies. I argue that collections of rare natural historical specimens and the scientific knowledge that resulted from their study should be counted among the profits extracted through the exploitations of the British slave trade.


  • “Building an Inclusive Botany: The “Radicle” Dream,” Plants, People, Planet (forthcoming). With Makenzie Mabry et al.
  • “James Petiver’s ‘Kind Friends’ and ‘Curious Persons’ in the Atlantic World: Commerce, Colonialism, and Collecting,” Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science (Oct. 2019). https://doi.org/10.1098/rsnr.2019.0011
  • “A Slaving Surgeon’s Collection: The Pursuit of Natural History through the British Slave Trade to Spanish America,” in Curious Encounters: Voyaging, Collecting, and Making Knowledge in the Long Eighteenth Century, ed. Adriana Craciun and Mary Terrall (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019), 138-158.
  • “The Slave Trade and Natural Science,” in Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History, ed. Trevor Burnard (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0266
  •  “Virginia’s Great Fresh of 1771 and the Politics of Disaster Relief,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 123, no. 4 (Dec. 2015): 298-323.
  • “To Make Florida Answer to Its Name: John Ellis, Bernard Romans, and the Atlantic Science of British West Florida,” British Journal for the History of Science, vol. 47, no. 1 (Mar. 2014): 43-65.
  • “Collecting Slave Traders: James Petiver, Natural History, and the British Slave Trade,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., vol. 70, no. 4 (Oct. 2013).
  • “Ecosystems under Sail: Specimen Transport in the Eighteenth-Century French and British Atlantics,” Early American Studies, vol. 10, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 503-539. With Christopher M. Parsons.
    • *winner of the John Murrin Prize for best article published in EAS in 2012
  • “Translating the Vernacular: Indigenous and African Knowledge in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic,” Atlantic Studies, vol. 8, no. 1 (2011): 29-48.
  • “The History of Atlantic Science: Collective reflections from the 2009 Harvard seminar on Atlantic history,” Atlantic Studies, vol. 7, no. 4 (Dec. 2010): 493-509. With Marcelo Aranda, et at.
  • “Prodigies and Portents: Providentialism in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake,” Maryland Historical Magazine, 97, no. 4 (Winter 2002).
  • “Judge, Jury, Magistrate & Soldier: Rethinking Law and Authority in late Eighteenth-Century Ireland,” American Journal of Legal History, 44, no. 3 (July 2000).

Fellowships and Grants

  • 2017 Summer Research Stipend, College of Liberal Arts, Cal Poly
  • 2017 Dibner History of Science Short-Term Research Fellow, Huntington Library
  • 2015-2018 Scholar’s Award, National Science Foundation (Award #1455679)
  • 2015 Franklin Research Grant, American Philosophical Society
  • 2013-2014 American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship
  • 2013-2014 Extramural Funding Initiative, California Polytechnic State University
  • 2013-2014 Dibner Research Fellowship in the History of Science & Technology, Huntington Library (declined)
  • 2013 State Faculty Support Grant, California Polytechnic State University
  • 2012 State Faculty Support Grant, California Polytechnic State University (awarded but funding suspended)
  • 2009 State Faculty Support Grant, California Polytechnic State University  
  • 2007 National Science Foundation Travel Grant, History of Science Society
  • 2005 Charles H. Watts Memorial Fellowship, John Carter Brown Library
  • 2004-2005 Johns Hopkins University Dean’s Teaching Fellowship
  • 2004 Rockefeller Library Fellow, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
  • 2004 David Library of the American Revolution Resident Fellow
  • 2004 Francois Andre Michaux Fund Library Resident Fellow, American Philosophical Society

Awards and Honors

  • Early Career Award for Achievement in Institutional/Professional Service, College of Liberal Arts, Cal Poly (2015)
  • John M. Murrin Prize for best article published in Early American Studies for “Ecosystems under Sail,” (2012)
  • Cal Poly President’s Community Service Award (May 2011)
  • History Department Teacher of the Year Award (June 2008)


Administrative Positions

  • Associate Dean for Student Success, College of Liberal Arts (2021-present) 
  • Department Chair, History Department (2017-2021) 
  • College of Liberal Arts Administrative Fellow (2014-2017) 
  • Graduate Program Director, History Department (2015-2017) 

Courses previously taught

  • HIST 100 – Introduction to the Study of History
  • HIST 201 – U.S. History before 1865
  • HIST 207 – Freedom and Equality in America
  • HIST 320 – Colonial and Revolutionary America
  • HIST 350 – The Scientific Revolution
  • HIST 401 – Early America
  • HIST 402 – American Revolution and the New Nation
  • HIST 405 – African American History to 1865
  • HIST 460 – Senior Project I
  • HIST 461 – Senior Project II
  • HIST 467 – History Internship
  • HIST 505 – Grad Seminar: Science & Nature in Early America
  • HIST 505 – Grad Seminar: Historical Memory & Early America
  • HIST 510 – Grad Seminar: Science in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800
  • HIST 512 - Supervised Readings for Comprehensive Exams
  • HNRS 207 - Freedom and Equality in America
  • SCM 320 – Technology in London

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