Laurel studies the histories of science, art, and material culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She is interested in the history of natural history, museums, material culture, and the human relationship with the natural world. Her dissertation will join her interests in the history of decorative arts and the life sciences by examining the way biological thinking shaped conceptions of decoration, ornament and pattern at the turn of the twentieth century. In particular, it will explore how concepts of evolution were applied to art forms, both western and non-western, and how notions from the decorative world may have shaped early understandings of scientifically meaningful “patterns” in the life sciences.
Laurel has a B.A. (highest honors) in the history of art and visual culture from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an M.A. in the history of decorative arts, design and culture from the Bard Graduate Center in New York. Her M.A. thesis, which was granted the Clive Wainwright Thesis Award, explored the history of the domestic aquarium and how Americans collected, displayed, and discussed aquatic plants and animals between 1850 and 1920. Before coming to Yale, Laurel worked in exhibition planning at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and as an art historian with the Art Loss Register in New York.