Race, Space, and Botanical Imperialism Grant

Race, Space, and Botanical Imperialism .


  • This study will investigate how late nineteenth and early twentieth century tropical plant exploration and experimentation undertaken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) related to U.S. foreign policy goals, and how it contributed to shaping ideals about Florida's frontier settlement. The project will contribute to a general understanding of how science shapes and is shaped by larger national political and economic initiatives. The project includes integrated educational activities such as the development of a public exhibit; the creation of a web-based learning module available to anyone interested in this material; the training of undergraduate and graduate students in conducting historic-geographic research; and community engagement. Societal outcomes from these projects include contributing to the education and training of minority students for careers in agriculture and other sciences, and promoting broader public understanding of the contributions of racial and ethnic minorities to U.S. science and technology.Using the case of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s early tropical plant exploration and experimentation, this study brings the American tropics into the analyses of science, foreign policy, and American frontier settlement. The project will theoretically and empirically advance several fields of inquiry including geographies of science, black geographies, political ecology, and historical geography. It will produce new knowledge about African Diasporic contributions to agricultural and botanical sciences and about the influences of racial stereotypes on historical agricultural development. Specifically the study's objectives are: 1) to review and analyze USDA scientists' practices of tropical plant collection, experimentation, and introduction; 2) to understand the role of the USDA's tropical plant exploration and introduction efforts in constructing Florida's tropical region as a desirable space for white settlement; and 3) to analyze how nineteenth and early twentieth-century interlinked ideas of race, U.S. empire, and scientific knowledge shaped and were shaped by the USDA's tropical plant projects. Using both archived materials and published historical documents the investigator will analyze the representational and embodied practices of key individuals and the policies and politics of their associated institutions. The historical period under investigation begins with the USDA's move toward overseas exploration and plant importation, around 1890, and ends in 1945 when the geopolitical context of US foreign policy shifted significantly. Archived materials from a variety of public and private holdings will be a primary source of data, including field collecting journals, scientific diaries, official reports, correspondence, photographs, sketches, maps, government policies, memoranda, and directives.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

date/time interval

  • August 1, 2018 - January 31, 2023

sponsor award ID

  • 1832225