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Of Plants and Power

New from Dumbarton Oaks Publications: The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century

A Swiss doctor pens the first survey of Russia’s fauna. A British opium trader builds an opulent garden with plants culled from Indian and Chinese ports of call on land bought from the Maori in New Zealand. A Mongol monk writes a medical manual in Tibetan on the fringes of the Qing Empire. A Prussian naturalist takes field notes on Peruvian rafts used to haul massive loads of fruit up rivers.

Welcome to the world of The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century, where plants prove even more globally mobile than the people and politics that set them in motion. Imperial geopolitics meets the systematic study of plants—transformed by new discoveries, inventions, and taxonomies—in this book of essays by sixteen scholars working across five continents. Plants were the focus of cutting-edge experimentation, and botany was big business. Opium could build, or topple, a nation; so could the ginseng that cured an addiction. The ability to identify, document, ship, and transplant the right plants built fortunes and projected power. Trading in plants and exploiting their properties became a key way to grow and run an empire.

The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century investigates the ambitions of the nations that sought to use this power; documents some of the “agents of empire” who were its sometimes ambivalent enablers; charts the routes traced by people and plants around the globe; and examines how people and nations alike used plants to fashion identities for themselves. Featuring 183 full-color illustrations reproduced at high quality from prints, books, and paintings, many drawn from the rich collections of the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection, this book also highlights the artistic merits of the thousands of botanical publications of this age of empires.

The book grew out of a symposium held at Dumbarton Oaks in fall 2013 to celebrate the Rare Book Library’s fiftieth anniversary. Editors Yota Batsaki, Sarah Burke Cahalan, and Anatole Tchikine have brought together contributors from disciplines that include landscape architecture, media studies, comparative literature, archaeology, history, and art history. Readers can also sample its contents through an extensive online exhibit developed in conjunction with the 2013 symposium. Together, The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century and the accompanying exhibit provide indispensable resources for anyone interested in the history of science, the eighteenth century, imperial studies, and the history of globalization.

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