#MemberMonday: Kathryn Renton




University of California, Los Angeles
PhD Candidate, History

MA, History


Harvard University

BA, History and Literature


What got you in to history? In to equine history?

     I think a family trip to a medieval walled village at an impressionable age first got me interested in history, and I’ve been fascinated with trying to imagine what life was like “back then” ever since. After majoring in History and Literature, I worked in the field of disaster relief for several years before thinking about returning to graduate school. I’ve always had an interest in culture, and reading travel literature and perceptions of “human-ness,” intelligence and emotion got me interested in the human-animal question. But when looking for a dissertation topic, it was the seeming loss of memory and/or familiarity with horses in recent historiography that got me thinking about horses in terms of historical methodology. Having dabbled in horseback riding in different traditions (hunter-jumper, dressage, wilderness horse-packing, trail rides — more or less any chance I could catch), I knew that the language, philosophy and forms of partnership varied in nuanced ways that were not commonly reflected in standard treatment of historical horses.

Who is your favorite historical horse?

     So many legendary horses… but as far as historical horses go I love the story of “Sergeant Reckless,” a Mongolian mare that became a mascot and companion for a Marine division during the Korean War, earning herself retirement and a statue at Camp Pendleton in 2016.

What are you working on right now?

     My current research examines the introduction of the horse to the Americas by the Spanish as part of the Columbian Exchange. I was very curious about the culture of the horse in Spain, well known especially in Andalusia, and the effects it had on strategies in expansion and conquest within the Iberian Peninsula and then across the Atlantic. By re-introducing modern, domesticated horses to the American continents, this moment provides a key test case for the impact of the horse in various realms of historical study.  In my dissertation, I argue that new forms of governance and new definitions of noble status in the early modern period bore the specific imprint of the horse. For example, structural elements of horse breeding in Spain directly influenced conquest and settlement strategies in the Americas, as well as shaping local forms of resistance in colonial society. Using archives from Spain, Mexico and Peru, this project foregrounds the role of experiential knowledge with animals and demonstrates negotiated limits of power that horses were used to represent in the developing early modern Spanish empire.  

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