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A Patch of Weeds: Plant Transfers and Biological Innovation in 19th-Century American Agricultural Development

A Patch of Weeds: Plant Transfers and Biological Innovation in 19th-Century American Agricultural Development

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Faculty House, Columbia University

Presented By

Presented by the History & Philosophy of Science Section of the New York Academy of Sciences


Accounts of biological innovation in 19th-century American agriculture have interpreted importation of foreign seeds and westward migration of small farmers as precursors to the consolidation of improvement in land grant colleges, experiment stations, the US Department of Agriculture, and private seed firms. But these institutional narratives cannot fully account for the redefinition of seeds as objects of research and development and forms of property, transformations that have troubled analysts of corporate consolidation and intellectual property in the life sciences. Examining the practices of 19th-century Mennonite and 21st-century Kurdish populations, this talk investigates the intellectual and material resources of farmers and itinerant populations as primary aspects of improvement, analyzing the exploitation, transformation, and elision of local knowledge through the institutionalization of research and development. These studies historicize contemporary debates over rural development, biodiversity preservation, and intellectual property in seeds and plants.

Courtney Fullilove is Assistant Professor of History and affiliated faculty in the Science in Society Program and the College of the Environment at Wesleyan University, where she teaches nineteenth-century U.S. social history, environmental history, and the history of science and technology in global perspective. She researches the history of practices now gathered under the rubric of world development: sustainability, biodiversity, intellectual property law, traditional knowledge, and cultural heritage. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis in the program on "Networks of Exchange: Mobilities of Knowledge in a Globalized World," where she is completing a book about the reliance of 19th-century American agricultural development on global seeds and methods.

Travel & Lodging

Meeting Location

Faculty House, Columbia University
64 Morningside Drive
New York, NY 10027