While the contemporary United States is a patchwork of large-scale monocultures, this talk will explore unrealized alternatives, from a Midwestern prairie harvested for production of botanic medicines to an American South populated by smallholders cultivating tea. Understanding why these futures were unrealized, and at what cost, conjures the histories of diverse people, plants, and knowledge on the move. Weaving together the lives of German and Russian immigrant farmers, prairie plant collectors, and Ohio pharmacists, Fullilove recasts the amber waves of grain immortalized in “America the Beautiful” not as an inherited Eden, but rather a novel landscape constructed by transplanted seeds and the skilled labor of willing and unwilling immigrants.
Courtney Fullilove is Assistant Professor of History, Environmental Studies, and Science in Society at Wesleyan University, where she teaches US history of science and technology in global perspective. She is author of The Profit of the Earth: The Global Seeds of American Agriculture (University of Chicago Press, 2017).
The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.