Publication Date

June 28, 2023

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


  • Europe


Environmental, Medicine, Science, & Technology

Anita Guerrini is the Horning Professor in the Humanities Emerita at Oregon State University and a research professor at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). She lives in Ventura, California, and has been a member since 1983.


Headshot of Anita Guerrini

Anita Guerrini

Twitter and Instagram: @nickytheprof

Alma maters: BA, Connecticut College, 1975; BA/MA, University of Oxford, 1977; MA, Indiana University, 1980; PhD, Indiana University, 1983

Fields of interest: science, medicine, environment, early modern Europe, restoration ecology

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?

My career path was rather rocky. I received my PhD in history and philosophy of science from Indiana University at the end of 1983 and secured a tenure-track position more than a decade later. My spouse is also a historian, which complicated our job search; after he found a tenure-track job at UCSB, not long after the birth of our first child, I concentrated on writing, teaching as an adjunct when I could. I obtained a half-time tenure-track position at UCSB in 1995. From there I moved through the ranks with tenure in 1999 and promotion to full professor and full time in 2004. I was offered the Horning Chair in the Humanities at Oregon State in 2008, which included a position for my spouse, and we spent a decade in Corvallis. The generous funding provided by the endowment allowed me to complete my third, award-winning monograph, The Courtiers’ Anatomists (2015) and several articles, as well as fund graduate students and organize many speakers and events. Returning after retirement to southern California, I have an appointment as research professor at UCSB. I continue to write, cook, hike, and read a lot of old books, as my Twitter biography states. As a first-generation, working-class scholar, I feel incredibly grateful that I have been able to follow my passions, with the help of my parents, my supportive spouse, and our sons.

What do you like the most about where you live and work?

I love the sun, the Pacific Ocean, and the proximity to excellent research collections at UCSB, UCLA, the Getty, and the Huntington.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am working on far too many projects. A book manuscript on fossil bones, giants, and national identities in early modern Europe is nearing completion. I have a second, related book project on human remains, especially skeletons, in the same period. I am also writing a proposal for a short book on William Harvey for the Renaissance Lives series. A second, updated edition of my 2003 book Experimenting with Humans and Animals came out a few months ago and I am writing a few things in relation to that, including an article on the Polio Pioneers in the 1950s. I am a member of a research collective on natural history collections, Collection Ecologies, and we are planning some joint publications.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?

My interests have evolved a lot since graduation. My dissertation was on a group of Newtonian physicians in the early 18th century and my first monograph was on one of those men, George Cheyne. A postdoc at the American Philosophical Society Library resulted in a bibliography of early American natural history and I have continued to work on environmental history, mainly in progressive-era California. My main fields of research since the early 1990s have been animals, human anatomy, and more recently the collection and display of animal and human remains. I have also published on the history of food and diet in the 17th and 18th centuries.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?

My most fascinating recent discovery is a series of letters between Joseph Banks and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach from the 1780s and 90s where they discuss a lively trade in “exotic” skulls. The most fun is the journal of a callow young English surgeon who traveled to France around 1720; it made me laugh out loud in the reading room of the Wellcome Library in London.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

I listen to podcasts on my daily walks and I am enjoying Drafting the Past, on writing history, and Joanne Freeman and Heather Cox Richardson’s Now & Then. A big fan of old Hollywood movies, I love Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This.

What do you value most about the history discipline?

I do not think I could be anything other than a historian. Entering the lives of people in the past continues to enthrall me.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you?

It is important for me to be part of a community of historians, and the AHR allows me to experience the full spectrum of historical research, which enriches my own research (and teaching, when I taught).

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?

I ran into my undergrad adviser, Helen Mulvey, in the mid-1990s and I was so pleased to tell her I had landed a tenure-track job.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association