Benjamin Schmidt is the Costigan Professor of History at the University of Washington in Seattle. His work sits at the disciplinary crossroads of cultural history, visual and material studies, and the history of science; and concerns itself chiefly with Europe’s engagement with the world in the so-called first age of globalism. He has published widely on early modern topics, including Innocence Abroad: The Dutch Imagination and the New World, which won the Renaissance Society of America’s Gordan Prize and the Holland Society’s Hendricks Prize; Making Knowledge in Early Modern Europe: Practices, Objects, and Texts (with Pamela Smith); The Discovery of Guiana by Sir Walter Ralegh; and Going Dutch: The Dutch Presence in America, 1609–2009 (with Annette Stott). His book, Inventing Exoticism: Geography, Globalism, and Europe’s Early Modern World, explores the development of European forms of “exoticism”—ways of looking at and imagining, representing and framing, the non-European world—in the early years of global encounter. A finalist for the Kenshur Prize awarded by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Inventing Exoticism recently appeared in a Chinese translation.

His research investigates various materials and material technologies that served as critical intermediaries in the age of “encounter”–media that mediated, as it were, early modern transcultural engagements. As a Doan Senior Fellow at the Beckman Center, he focused on the medium of porcelain and the narrative of its European “discovery” in the early 18th century. He is interested, more particularly, in the alchemical moment of Meissen—when hard-paste porcelain was finally obtained by a German alchemist laboring in a dank Saxon dungeon—and how the development of a domestic form of “china” instigated a radical reassessment of its ancient Asian makers in China. His fellowship project, “Alchemy at Meissen,” argues that an essential shift in global imagination took place in sync with the technological innovations, material productions, and decorative strategies of Meissen atelier. It narrates, in short, an alchemical drama that changed the world.