University of California, Riverside
PhD student, Early Modern & Public History
California State University, Fresno
MA Medieval History, with distinction
SUNY Stony Brook
BA Medieval History & Literature, honors
Meredith Manor, Riding Master VI, with honors
What got you in to history? In to equine history?
I had been running a barn, but I decided to go back to school in 2009. My first semester back, I took a medieval history class “for fun.” That class was with Dr. Sara Lipton, and I immediately changed majors (I had been a psych major). It was fun– she is a great story teller, and I enjoy the investigative aspects of history as a discipline– but it was also important. She made clear the connections to our own culture, and showed how history is important to understanding what it is to be human. I can also credit her with making me realize that history work was never done. In the process of writing my upper division historiography, I realized how sparse, and how problematic, academic literature on horses was. I never thought I’d go to grad school. I am a first generation graduate with a GED. But I loved teaching, and horse history research had been what I did in my spare time (read: bad weather) on the farm.
Who is your favorite historical horse?
Younger me would have said Ruffian. In fact, she’s who I put for those “what famous person would you go back in time to meet” essays we’ve all had to write. She was fast, fiery, and unforgettable. These days, though, Bucephalus. The account of the taming of Bucephalus from Plutarch, regardless of its veracity, encapsules a valuable lesson in horsemanship (and teaching, for that matter). One of the training horses I had before returning to school ended up being nicknamed Bucephalus. He was a young Arabian, NBR Bakman Bey, and was in fact afraid of his own shadow. We worked through that quickly, he was also sweet and clever. But he kept having odd problems, to the point where I ended up riding him bridle-less for a while. It turned out he had had an ear infection the year before, and was still healing up. It was another reminder to listen.
What are you working on right now?
My current project, which will be my dissertation, is on ideas of inheritance before Mendel, 1700-1866. It started out as a simple question– what were the genetics behind the unusual colors of the Hanoverian Cream and Hanoverian White– and I expected to look into the trade and political relationships between various stables. I did think the breeding choices behind those strain were more nuanced and informed than is usually credited, but I didn’t think this was particularly radical. However, while I was at the National Sporting Library this summer (I highly recommend them), I found that not only were breeding choices very thoroughly thought out, but inbreeding of any form was highly discouraged (unlike the following century). This turned the idea that early modern breeders simply bred “like to like” on its head. As well as the Whites and Creams, I will be looking at other livestock (cattle and sheep have particularly good records, and are credited by horsemen of this time with success from inbreeding, something the horsemen found startling and disturbing), and also at early American horse breeding, particularly the Morgan.
Find Kat here.