ensp3559

Browse Exhibits (12 total)

Thomsonian Medicine in the Age of Jackson

An exploration of the American botanico-medical movement of the early-to-mid 19th century. 

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Gardens, Children's Literature and Imperialism

An exploration of the ways in which turn-of-the-century children's literature was concerned with, and fascinated by, the British national identity, gardens and colonialism.

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Expanding Into the Frontier: Toronto in the mid-19th Century

An interdisciplinary account of Toronto, Upper Canada from 1825 to 1867, focusing on the city's interactions with its forested frontier. This study centers its analysis on the impact visual and literary cultures of British Canadians had on ideologies of urbanization, nature, and rural development.

Final Project for ENSP 3559: Plants and Empire, in Fall 2017.

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Hidden Roots: The essential agricultural knowledge that 18th-century female enslaved laborers contributed to the United States South

Colonial systems have left deep, violent wounds on the face of global history, many of which are still felt today. Some of these are readily apparent, conspicuous scars of the past provoking reflection and restitution; others, however, are quieter wrongs, issues of erasure or stolen voices. One such wrong is the issue of intellectual property of enslaved laborers and how, among endless other things, it was taken from them, often recredited as another’s work. Past and current racism has led to this willful ignorance and revision of history, diminishing enslaved laborers’ overwhelming contributions, both physical and intellectual, to the development of the United States economy. The history of slavery is often packaged into a general narrative and widely disseminated, but there are still numerous examples throughout history of the work and innovation of enslaved laborers going unrecognized, accounts still largely unknown to the masses. In the text “Out of Africa: Colonial Rice History in the Black Atlantic,” Judith Carney attempts to shed light on a corner of this greater problem of lost recognition, specifically the subject of slaves’ knowledge on rice plantations, and how it stemmed from agricultural knowledge originating in West African countries. Within this exhibit, I attempt to expand on Carney’s research while also somewhat narrowing my focus, exploring the path of female enslaved laborers taken from West Africa to the United States South during the 18th century, examining the invaluable knowledge, especially in relation to agriculture, that they brought with them and the impacts it had on the greater economy.

The sources presented here, ranging from illustrations to specialized maps, detail multiple stages in the narrative of intellectual property stolen from female enslaved laborers. I begin with the origins of this knowledge, West Africa, where many societies saw women performing more agricultural work than men (Robertson and Klein 55). It is incorrect to suggest that those of European descent were the sole or even main innovators when it came to agriculture (Sutter and Mangianello 99), and historical records indicate that technologies such as elaborate irrigation systems, or rice mills and mortars, essential and advanced for the colonial period, possessed foundations in African design (Chaplin 258). These technologies were often operated by women, a fact not lost on those in the slave trade. Though a larger number of men were captured and forcibly wrenched away to the Americas, women constituted the majority of enslaved laborers within African slave systems (Robertson and Klein 36). However, though the many women taken to the Americas for slavery suffered unthinkable abuse and maltreatment, they were often valued for the knowledge that they brought with them and subsequently passed on to others. White people in the plantation economy were aware of female slaves’ greater connection to and knowledge of the natural world, and so turned to them when such knowledge was necessary, even though they were doubtful of their scientific legitimacy (Parrish 261-262). Referred to as the “backbone” of the labor force, the skill and innovation with which women endured slave labor was invaluable for the plantation economy, and was often accompanied by the management of personal matters as well (Schwalm 38). These women did more work than their male counterparts, suffering additional and even more despicable conditions under slavery, and their innovations altered the global economies and the outcomes of wars (Schwalm 77).

By organizing the sources in a way that places the arc of female slaves from West Africa within the greater history of slavery, I attempt to represent the path along which their knowledge and innovation traveled, resulting in its eventual exploitation and erasure. As evidenced by the sources explored in this exhibit, female enslaved laborers brought invaluable knowledge with them from West Africa, adapting it to their new surroundings while expanding and innovating, ultimately benefiting the economy of the United States South.

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Hawaii and Hula: Destruction of Native Culture

Captain James Cook is known as the first to discover the archipelago of Hawai’i in 1778. This idea is contested by the fact that the native Hawai’ians had been there for a while before Cook “discovered” it. What Cook did do was become of the first of many that would come to Hawai’i in hopes of finding something to capitalize on. Word was already out that Hawaiian women were sexually more promiscuous than their American counterparts because of their cultural practices. This assumption drew individuals, tourists and sailors alike, to Hawaii.  Missionaries who had seem images and heard stories of bare chested women dancing in accordance with non-Christian religion beliefs were outraged. Their arrival in Hawaii was the beginning of a loss of culture and traditional religiosity. Missionaries erected schools for native Hawaiians in which they were not permitted to speak their own language, only English. These missionaries also shamed women who participated in hula into covering up and doing away with traditional garb.

An influx of prospective businessmen looking to benefit from Hawai’i’s lack of a set property system also aided in the American occupation and annexation of Hawaii, owing ultimately to a destruction of Hawai'ian culture. The landholding system, once run efficiently by Hawai’i’s multiple “ohana,” (a word meaning "family" or "neighobr" from the root word, “taro root” in the Hawai’ian language) was usurped by opportunists from other shores. Dole, the pineapple brand we still recognize today, boasts roots begun in Hawaiian soil. In fact, Sanford Dole, descendant of two missionaries to Hawaii, helped in the usurpation of Hawaii’s last queen, Queen Liliʻuokalani. Hawaii was ultimately brought into statehood by the US because of its ideal location as a military base, the desire of powerful businessmen and its abundant resources that titillated those who wished to monopolize Hawa’iian land.

The sexualization of women hula dancers was due in part to the US’s desire for Hawai’i to be accepted into American culture as true state. Hula is a multifaceted ceremony including war dances which appear more aggressive, dances dedicated to the nature of the island and also certain dances dedicated to sexuality. The later two were the ones incorporated to the published versions of hula for tourists with a special focus on the dances which were construed as more sexually provocative to the western audience. The common image the average American conjures up of a Hawai’ian woman wearing a coconut bra and a green grass skirt are completely incorrect and have no factual basis in Hawai'i (although these images might be true of other Polynesian locals).

Not infrequently, petitions were required in order for native Hawai’ians to practice hula. Hula was meant to be practiced only if it was for entertainment purposes. Practiced in its true form, hula was considered off putting to tourists; the religiosity associated with the ceremony was foreign and, worse still, non Christian. Certain plots of land where hula specific flora was customarily found were roped off in order to inhibit the practice. A spirited “Aloha,” hospitality was demanded from indigenous Hawai’ians who were treated as “defeated people in their own homeland.” How could Hawai’ans share their “aloha,” a word meaning more than just the hospitality of a simple hello, with invaders who had rejected their continued presence there?

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The Wonderland

         In 1872 a massive amount of land that was sequestered between Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho was seized by the government, and molded into what is today known as Yellowstone National Park—America’s first and biggest park. The Yellowstone Act of 1872 declared the 3,471 square miles of “unclaimed” land as a federal park.  In today’s society we think of that land as wilderness, as being untouched.  Our civilization has conditioned humans to believe that parks such as Yellowstone are as Henry David Thoreau put it so nicely, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.”(Cronon).  Is that really the case?  Can we as humans, whose society is built up into skyscrapers consider a land that is crisscrossed with man-made trails really be wild?  To answer this question of wilderness in Yellowstone, I will be taking a look at the three categories that influenced Yellowstone’s wilderness. The first, which will be told in a two sequence mini story, is the sovereignty of the land that Yellowstone was founded on.  The second is the tourism that has redefined the term of “wilderness” that is found in National Parks.  The third and final sequence of the exhibit will focus on the animals that influenced the landscape of this particular National Park.  Taking a look specifically at the wolves that were reintroduced into Yellowstone. 

         In a quick introduction to the exhibition pages that will follow; the first mini story that will be displayed is the controversial topic of Native Americans.  Thinking in the frame of history, in which the sovereignty was stripped from the indigenous people whom lived on the land.  Through the window of the formation of Yellowstone, the images will analyze how Native Americans thought about the land, and how they view in it current day, now that it belongs to the United States government.   How were their concepts of wilderness different from our own?  What negative affects are seen through the trends of current Native Americans that used to use the land in which Yellowstone is situated? 

         The second mini story that will be told through images three and four will be how tourism began, and what it looked like when Yellowstone was first created to now.  This mini story will also talk about the creation of trails, and roads throughout the park, and how those have “tainted” our current day concept of wilderness.

          Lastly, image five will go into the effect wolves have on the landscape of Yellowstone National Park, and will conclude the journey of Yellowstone National Park’s history through the frame of people and animals. 

          Can Yellowstone National Park categorically be deemed wilderness if the definition of wilderness today is  “uninhibited or untouched?” (OED).

The Wonderland

In 1872 a massive amount of land that was sequestered between Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho was seized by the government, and molded into what is today known as Yellowstone National Park—America’s first and biggest park. The Yellowstone Act of 1872 declared the 3,471 square miles of “unclaimed” land as a federal park.  In today’s society we think of that land as wilderness, as being untouched.  Our civilization has conditioned humans to believe that parks such as Yellowstone are as Henry David Thoreau put it so nicely, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.”(Cronon).  Is that really the case?  Can we as humans, whose society is built up into skyscrapers consider a land that is crisscrossed with man-made trails really be wild?  To answer this question of wilderness in Yellowstone, I will be taking a look at the three categories that influenced Yellowstone’s wilderness. The first, which will be told in a two sequence mini story, is the sovereignty of the land that Yellowstone was founded on.  The second is the tourism that has redefined the term of “wilderness” that is found in National Parks.  The third and final sequence of the exhibit will focus on the animals that influenced the landscape of this particular National Park.  Taking a look specifically at the wolves that were reintroduced into Yellowstone. 

In a quick introduction to the exhibition pages that will follow; the first mini story that will be displayed is the controversial topic of Native Americans.  Thinking in the frame of history, in which the sovereignty was stripped from the indigenous people whom lived on the land.  Through the window of the formation of Yellowstone, the images will analyze how Native Americans thought about the land, and how they view in it current day, now that it belongs to the United States government.   How were their concepts of wilderness different from our own?  What negative affects are seen through the trends of current Native Americans that used to use the land in which Yellowstone is situated? 

The second mini story that will be told through images three and four will be how tourism began, and what it looked like when Yellowstone was first created to now.  This mini story will also talk about the creation of trails, and roads throughout the park, and how those have “tainted” our current day concept of wilderness.

Lastly, image five will go into the effect wolves have on the landscape of Yellowstone National Park, and will conclude the journey of Yellowstone National Park’s history through the frame of people and animals. 

Can Yellowstone National Park categorically be deemed wilderness if the definition of wilderness today is  “uninhibited or untouched?” (OED).