Black braided silk sutures, treated with wax and silicone, magnified 150-fold. Nicole Ong, Biomaterial Matters 2017. 

Working Group (2018-)

Proteins and Fibers: Scaffolding History with Molecular Signatures

Molecular and microscale analyses of animal-based proteins and fibers are common methods used by evolutionary biologists, ecologists, geneticists, and many other scientists to study the traces of animals in history. Such research has also opened a completely new qualitative and temporal perspective for historians who, until recently, have largely relied upon archaeology, historical linguistics, or visual and textual recordings. As what is historically known about animals changes, equally, new light is shed on the animals’ role in human life and thinking. This project invites research on the methodological developments in the study of animals, especially the many uses of the molecular signatures of animalian artifacts to reconstruct animal histories. Trust and reliability figure into the molecular methods and radiometric tools used to analyze the meanings of evolutionary baselines describing animal domestication. This new research focus also explores knowledge production arising from multidisciplinary approaches, from proteomics to photoacoustic spectroscopy, to characterize animalian artifacts in biodeterioration studies and archaeological textile conservation. Historians of science and technology are invited to undertake reflexive as well as refractive study of these processes by which animal proteins and fibers leave traces and tantalizing histories—that analysts in this field continue to inquire into and piece together.


Hand-woven mid-twentieth century Amami Ōshima tsumugi (pongee) silk, magnified at 200x.

Nicole Ong, Biomaterial Matters 2017

News & Press

"Proteins and Fibers" Working Group (Dept. III) seeks a Postdoctoral Fellow (deadline Feb. 20, 2021)



Grote, M., Onaga, L., Creager, A. N. H., Chadarevian, S. d., Liu, D., Surita, G., & Tracy, S. E. (2021). The Molecular Vista: Current Perspectives on Molecules and Life in the Twentieth Century. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences,43(1): 16. doi:10.1007/s40656-020-00364-5.

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Onaga, L. (2018). Measuring the Particular: The Meanings of Low-Dose Radiation Experiments in Post-1954 Japan. Positions: Asia Critique,26(2), 265-304. doi:10.1215/10679847-4351566.

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Past Events

A Silkworm For All Seasons


Proteins & Fibers Inquiry I: Animal Histories on the Proteomic Horizon


Proteins & Fibers Inquiry II: Animal Histories on the Zooarchaeological Horizon


Horny Substances and Medical Properties: The Nail of the Great Beast


Vegetable * Animal * Transformation


Documenting Impermanence: Five Centuries of Mapping Transient Fishing Stations in Newfoundland, Canada


Proteins & Fibers Inquiry III: "Betwixt and Between: Reconstructing Animal Histories with Teeth"


Proteins & Fibers Inquiry IV: “Reading the Book by Ignoring the Words”


Animal Materialities: Compositions and Practices in the History of Science


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