Profile picture of Vera Keller

Vera Keller

Department Head, Department of History
Phone: 541-346-6903
Office: 309 McKenzie Hall
Office Hours: Winter 23, Tuesday 2:00-3:00 p.m., Wednesday 3:00-4:00 p.m.


Pronouns: she/her/hers

         I am the author of three monographs, Knowledge and the Public Interest, 1575–1725 (Cambridge UP, 2015), The Interlopers: Early Stuart Projects and the Undisciplining of Knowledge (Hopkins, 2023), and Curating the Enlightenment: Johann Daniel Major and the Experimental Century (forthcoming, Cambridge UP) and over forty articles and book chapters on the development of the idea and practices of research in early modern Europe. I am particularly interested in the emergence of experimental science.

 In my first book, I explored the effects of new theories and practices of political "reason of state" and interest upon knowledge. In contrast to mainstream views that set the origins of modern sciences in disinterested objectivity, I argued that what changed in the early modern period was an acknowledgement and instrumentalization of the interested nature of knowledge. Such a view entails a thorough reconceptualization of the aims and nature of experimental science. Knowledge and the Public Interest argued that, rather than a form of thought that sought to purge human subjectivity and forge absolute certainty, experimental knowledges embraced doubt, epistemic risk-taking, and the pursuit of highly improbable but very (humanly) desirable knowledge goals.

My second and third books, Interlopers and Curating the Enlightenment, I trace connected processes of the undisciplining of knowledge and later attempts (never perfected) to rediscipline knowledge. This two-step historical development, I argue, generated the internally coherent structure of today's research disciplines. The disciplines today juxtapose an impetus to overturn prior knowledge through research and an imperative to pass on authoritative knowledge through teaching.

This body of work clusters around the historical figures of the projector and the polymath. Both these figures embraced many domains of knowledge, but they did so in differing ways. The projector, upon whom I focus in Interlopers,  "undisciplined" knowledge by overriding epistemic boundaries and appropriating knowledge during the advent of capitalism and global colonialism. Many loose knowledge hybrids, including experimental philosophy in early Stuart England, emerged out of the projectors' thefts and fusions. By contrast, academic polymaths worked to knit together unstructured and rapidly changing knowledge hybrids into new disciplines. They did so in explicit attempts to protect knowledge from the immediate pressures of politics and warfare. These academics thought strategically about how to construct dynamic knowledge infrastructures (such as redesigned collections, journal articles, citation practices and critical bibliographies) that could keep knowledge mobile and open to re-arrangement while also providing frameworks that could be transmitted over time. In Curating the Enlightenment, I concentrate on the late seventeenth-century German university, an overlooked arena of innovative thought where the first academic chairs of experimental philosophy were established. 

For some of my recent articles on projectors, see:

Into the Unknown: Clues, Hints, and Projects in the History of Knowledge

Happiness and Projects between London and Vienna: Wilhelm von Schröder on the London Weavers' Riot of 1675, Workhouses, and Technological Unemployment

For some of my recent articles and book chapters on polymaths, see:

Johann Daniel Major (1634–1693) and the experimental museum

Chapter 8 Professionalizing Doubt: Johann Daniel Major’s Observation ‘On the Horn of the Bezoardic Goat’, Curiosity Collecting, and Periodical Publication

See also Collective Wisdom (Brepols, 2022), co-edited with Anna Marie Roos. For more on the Collective Wisdom research project, see our blog,

Along with Markus Friedrich and Christine von Oertzen, I co-edit a book series from De Gruyter, Cultures and Practices of Knowledge in History.