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Growing Crops in Difficult Places: Struggles to Produce in Human Landscapes

Sat, April 13, 8:30 to 10:00am, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Union B

Session Submission Type: Panel


Already risky due to biotic and abiotic landscape factors, agricultural expansion has frequently met social challenges in colonial and colonized environments. The landscapes we study offer marginal places for growing crops—non-native habitats, arctic climates, polluted urban corridors, and nutritionally poor tropical soils. Despite these serious technical and biological challenges to producing food and other crops, however, in our historical contexts that span the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries and the colonial empires of the United States and Great Britain, the political and otherwise human challenges to success have been more influential. Despite the importation of knowledge and resources into these new agricultural contexts, local people were to be active in production, a reality made difficult by limited local knowledge, intergroup rivalries, and suspicion of the hierarchy. At the same time, the power of the establishment forced the hand of local production, driving cultivation to unrealistically high levels, conceptualizing products from an exclusively colonial perspective, or attempting to eliminate indigenous practices that conflicted with economic priorities. Widely dispersed both chronologically and geographically, collectively our case studies suggest that careful historical analysis of agricultural contexts are fundamental to understanding the risks and rewards of the production of crops and their ancillary social and colonial outcomes.

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