Sweet Captivity: A History of Primate Science from Cuba to the United States


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project centers the life of an individual woman, Rosalía Abreu, to access the intimate exchanges of science, politics, and culture—both in the making of primatology and the remaking of human boundaries in the twentieth century. In 1915, the Cuban sugar heiress and amateur naturalist became known as the first person to breed a chimpanzee in captivity. Despite this scientific feat, she remains largely overlooked in historical scholarship. Using extensive archival sources and a transnational methodology, Mas’ monograph assembles a constellation of sites that starts with Abreu and follows her apes from her home to the laboratory, to theme parks, and to natural history museums. It shows how scientific experts and institutions relied on lay worlds and nonhuman relationships to produce new conceptions of the “human,” to reconcile exploitation with ethics in the conduct of research, and to debate the limits of modern science.