Isabel Gabel

Postdoctoral Fellow

Isabel Gabel works on the history of biology and the human sciences in the 20th century, with a particular focus on concepts of history and contingency across disciplines. Isabel is currently working on her book manuscript, Biology and the Historical Imagination: Science and Humanism in Twentieth-Century France,  which provides a genealogy of the relationship between developments in the fields of evolutionary theory, genetics, and embryology, and the emergence of structuralism and posthumanism in France. The story centers around two generations of French philosophers, including Raymond Aron, Georges Canguilhem, Cornelius Castoriadis, Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Raymond Ruyer, and the biologists they turned to as resources, including Maurice Caullery, Étienne Wolff, and George E. Coghill.  For their colleagues in philosophy, biologists’ research was not a simple source of raw data, or evidence that could be marshaled to adjudicate matters of fact. It was rather a powerful ally for deep, humanist inquiry into questions of individuality, history, epistemology, and politics.  Isabel is also also at work on a second project on the historical linkage between scientific ideas of environment and historical theories of context.  This project intervenes in contemporary historiographical debates about climate and scale by showing how both the concept of “global” and the use of “historical context” have evolved in conversation with scientific debates about environment both on the ecological and animal scale.  This project tracks a shift in ideas of environment from a nineteenth-century analytic that rested on a sharp human-animal distinction to twenty-first-century notions of the anthropocene.  Isabel received her PhD in modern European history from Columbia University in 2015.  In 2011-2012, she was a Predoctoral Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Her work has also been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the DAAD, and the George Lurcy Fellowship.