Keller awarded ACLS Ryskamp Research Fellowship

Vera Keller

University of Oregon Clark Honors College history professor Vera Keller has been awarded a Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship through the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) for her research on the Dutch innovator Cornelis Drebbel (1572 – 1633). 

Funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Ryskamp Fellowship is a full-year award that provides exceptionally promising, early-career scholars the time and flexibility to pursue significant new projects. Just 12 awards were granted nationally across the humanities from 143 eligible applications. 

A science historian and noted Drebbel scholar, Keller has published a number of articles on the life and work of the late Renaissance inventor, alchemist and philosopher. Drebbel contributed to the development of measurement and control systems, optics and chemistry. His many inventions included a perpetual motion machine, the first self-regulating oven, and the first submarine that could stay submerged for three hours at a depth of 15 feet.

Keller is the first UO researcher to be awarded a Ryskamp Fellowship. She will receive a $64,000 stipend, as well as research funds and summer support, which will allow her to devote full attention to her research and writing. Keller will spend the year working on her second book, tentatively titled “Cornelis Drebbel and the Ambitions of Science.”  

Keller first became interested in Drebbel while writing her senior thesis on perpetual motion machines as an undergraduate at Harvard. Her interest led to her Princeton University Ph.D. thesis, “Cornelis Drebbel: Fame and the making of modernity.” Keller’s research was featured last year in the Nautilus article, “The Vulgar Mechanic and His Magical Oven.” In her second book, Keller will return to the subject of her dissertation. 

“Drebbel has much to tell us about the origins of experimental science in early modern Europe,” Keller said. “Recovering this now neglected figure and understanding his once immense appeal can contribute to revising our account of the Scientific Revolution.”

Keller describes Drebbel as a well-known, almost magical, figure in Europe who enchanted royalty and common people alike. His work has much to teach us about the birth and progress of science in the Renaissance era, and yet little is known about him today — something she hopes will change with her new book.