Faculty & Staff

Kelly J. Whitmer

Associate Professor of History
B.A., Colgate University; M.A., Western Washington University; Ph.D., University of British Columbia


Kelly Joan Whitmer’s research explores the intersection of history of science with the history of youth culture, education, religion and emotion in the early modern world.  She is particularly interested in the history of collecting and observational practices, visual and material culture and forms of social experimentation c. 1500 to 1800.  Dr. Whitmer offers a wide range of courses at Sewanee, including an introduction to the history of children and childhood, survey courses on the Renaissance, Reformation(s) and Enlightenment, also seminars on “Monsters, Marvels and Museums” and “Nature, Magic and Machines” in early modern Europe. 

The Halle Orphanage as Scientific Community book cover


‌In her book, The Halle Orphanage as Scientific Community:  Observation, Eclecticism and Pietism in the Early Enlightenment, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, c2015), Whitmer makes a powerful case for the importance of Halle’s Orphanage (founded c. 1700) as a key institutional venue for the pursuit of collaborative scientific research.  She shows how the Orphanage’s ability to serve as a kind of academy hinged on its promotion of philosophical eclecticism as a tool for assimilating perspectives and becoming an able observer. Dr. Whitmer received support from Sewanee’s Faculty Development Fund and a Faculty Fellowship from the Appalachian College Association to finish this project.

Before arriving at Sewanee, Dr. Whitmer was a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and won a Fulbright fellowship to carry out her research in Germany. More recently she held a Herzog-Ernst Fellowship (funded by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung) at the Gotha Research Library and is currently working on a book about child prodigies, educational reform and innovation in early modern Europe.




Selected Publications

  • "Imagining Uses for Things: Teaching 'Useful Knowledge' in the Early Eighteenth Century," History of Science 57 (2017): 37-60

  • “Model Children and Pious Desire in Early Enlightenment Philanthropy,” in Claudia Jarzebowski and Thomas Max Safley eds., Childhood and Emotion across Cultures, 1450-1800 (London: Routledge, 2014): 15-27

  • “What’s in a Name? Place, Peoples and Plants in the Danish-Halle Mission, c. 1710-1740,” Annals of Science Special Issue—In Kind: Species of Exchange in Early Modern Science 70:3 (2013): 337-356

  • "The Model that Never Moved: the Case of a Virtual Memory Theater and its Christian Philosophical Argument, 1700-1732," Science in Context 23:3 (2010): 289-327

  • "Eclecticism and the Technologies of Discernment in Pietist Pedagogy," Journal of the History of Ideas 70:4 (2009): 545-567


Contact info

735 University Avenue
Sewanee TN 37383

Areas of Expertise

Early Modern Europe, Germany
History of Science and Technology; Scientific Observation, Collecting and the History of the Museum
History of Children and Youth
History of Education