Catherine Mas

Assistant Professor, Department of History, Florida International University

2023 to 2024
NEH Postdoctoral Fellow

Sweet Captivity: A Transnational History of Primatology and Culture

This monograph centers the life of an individual woman, Rosalía Abreu, to access the intimate exchanges of science, politics, and culture—both in the making of primatology and the remaking of human-nonhuman boundaries in the 20th century. The Cuban sugar heiress became known as the first person to breed a chimpanzee in captivity in 1915. Despite this scientific feat, she remains at the margins of historical scholarship. My research assembles a constellation of sites that starts with Abreu and follows her apes from her home to the laboratory, to theme parks and natural history museums. It shows how science relied on lay worlds and nonhuman relationships that shaped new conceptions of the “human,” the negotiation of exploitation and ethics, and debates about the limits of modern science.