Rebecca Woods

Associate Professor
VC 312, Victoria College, 91 Charles St. W., University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 1K7



Department of History

Fields of Study


My research focuses on technology and environment in the nineteenth century, particularly how commerce, science, and technology shape and mediate human interactions with the nonhuman world. My first book, The Herds Shot Round the World: Native Breeds and the British Empire (UNC Press, 2017), examined how breeds of sheep and cattle circulated and were altered under imperial conditions in the nineteenth century.

I am currently working on a new project on frozen mammoths—the relatively rare phenomenon of soft-tissue preservation across millennia in permafrost environments—and how these individual animals have shaped and contributed to environmental and palentological thought since the late 18th century. This project is spart of a wider interest in the history of cold in the nineteenth century, which traces ideas of, and engagements with, cold itself through scientific experimentation with low temperatures, arctic exploration, and the commoditization of ice and cold in the nineteenth century. Sometimes a structuring limit to human endeavor, at others an obstacle to be overcome, or a profitable resource upon which to be capitalized, cold served both as a phenomenological reality and increasingly as an object of inquiry and exchange in the imperial world of the nineteenth century. Scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and an avid consuming public each engaged with, and in so doing, reshaped understandings of cold as a basic element of the natural world and one that structured much of human existence.

Selected Publications

The Herds Shot Round the World: Native Breeds and the British Empire (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

“Nature and the Refrigerating Machine: The Politics and Production of Cold in the Nineteenth Century,” in Joanna Radin and Emma Kowal (eds.), Cryopolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World (MIT Press, 2017).

“Green Mountain Merinos: Sheep Breeding in Nineteenth-Century Vermont,” Vermont History, (2017): 1-19

“From Colonial Animal to Imperial Edible: Building an Empire of Sheep in New Zealand, c. 1880-1900,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 35:1 (2015), 117-136.

“Breed, Culture, and Economy: The New Zealand Frozen Meat Trade, 1880-1914,” Agricultural History Review 60:II (2012), 288-308.