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From Collection to Cultivation

The Greenhouse is a meeting place for students and researchers interested in the history and sociology of plants, food, agriculture and environment to explore how science and technology shape what we grow and eat. The regular programme of papers and discussions is curated in conjunction with the project From Collection to Cultivation, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The reading group is open to all. We meet fortnightly during Cambridge term time in the HPS Board Room (Free School Lane, Cambridge) and on Zoom to discuss papers or presentations. Write to to subscribe to regular updates on readings and to get access to the Zoom link.


Current Sessions:

Check our Events page for upcoming meetings of The Greenhouse! Below you'll find a list of texts and talks we've already covered.


Previous Sessions:


  • 5 June: Radical Botanical Futures

Chapter 7 ('Becoming Plant Nonetheless') from Natania Meeker and Antónia Szabari, Radical Botany: Plants and Speculative Fiction (Fordham, 2019)


  • 22 May: Seeds and Profit

Part 3 ('Remaking Agrarian Capitalism') from Aniket Aga, Genetically Modified Democracy: Transgenic Crops in Contemporary India (Yale, 2021)


  • 8 May: Globalizing the Soybean

Chapter 4 ('Americanizing Soy') from Ines Prodöhl, Globalizing the Soybean: Fat, Feed, and Sometimes Food, c. 1900–1950 (Routledge, 2023)


  • March 13: Incarceration and naturalization

Chapter 8, Shinozuka, Biotic Borders (“Yellow Peril No More? National and Naturalized Enemies during World War II”)

Wendy Cheng, “Landscapes of beauty and plunder: Japanese American flower growers and an elite public garden in Los Angeles,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 38, no. 4 (2020): 699–717.


  • February 27: Military mobilization against insect invaders

Chapter 6, Shinozuka, Biotic Borders (“Japanese Beetle Menace: Discovery of the Beetle”)

Chapter 7, Edmund Russell, War and Nature: Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring (“Annihilation, 1943–1945”)


  • February 13: Japanese farmers the American West

Chapter 2, Shinozuka, Biotic Borders (“Early Yellow Peril vs. Western Menace: Chestnut Blight, Citrus Canker, and PQN 37”)

Chapter 4, Cecilia M. Tsu, Garden of the World: Asian Immigrants and the Making of Agriculture in California's Santa Clara Valley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) (“Defending the ‘American Farm Home’: Japanese Farm Families and the Anti-Japanese Movement”)


  • January 30: Policing migrant plants, pests, and peoples

Chapter 1, Shinozuka, Biotic Borders (“San José Scale: Contested Origins at the Turn of the Century”)

Philip Pauly, “The Beauty and the Menace of the Japanese Cherry Trees: Conflicting Visions of American Ecological Independence,” Isis 87, no. 1 (1996): 51–73.


  • 28 November: Labour and the Future (with guest speaker Dr. Jonathan Robins)

Chapters 9, 10, and 11, Robins, Oil Palm: A Global History.

Tania Murray Li, 'The Price of Un/Freedom: Indonesia's Colonial and Contemporary Plantation Labor Regimes', Comparative Studies in Society and History 59, no. 2 (2017): 245–76.

  • 14 November: Seeds and Care

Alice Rudge, 'Cultivating "Care": Colonial Botany and the Moral Lives of Oil Palm at the Twentieth Century's Turn', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 2022, 1–32.

Sophie Chao, 'Seed Care in the Palm Oil Sector', Environmental Humanities 10, no. 2 (2018): 421–446.

  • 31 October: Origins of Industry

Case Watkins, 'African Oil Palms, Colonial Socioecological Transformation and the Making of an Afro-Brazilian Landscape in Bahia, Brazil', Environment and History 21, no. 1 (2015): 13–42.

Valeria Giacomin, 'The Transformation of the Global Palm Oil Cluster: Dynamics of Cluster Competition between Africa and Southeast Asia (c.1900–1970)', Journal of Global History 13, no. 3 (2018): 374–98.

  • 17 October: Oil Palm and the Global Plant Fat Industry

Introduction and Chapters 7 and 8, Robins, Oil Palm: A Global History.

Jonathan Robins, 'Oil Boom: Agriculture, Chemistry, and the Rise of Global Plant Fat Industries, ca. 1850–1920', Journal of World History 29, no. 3 (2018): 313–42.

  • 7 June: Translation

Liv Østmo and John Law. ‘Mis/translation, Colonialism, and Environmental Conflict.’ Environmental Humanities 10, no. 2 (2018): 349–369. 

Jairo Robles-Piñeros, David Ludwig, Geilsa Costa Santos Baptista, and Adela Molina-Andrade. ‘Intercultural science education as a trading zone between traditional and academic knowledge.’ Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 84 (2020).

  • 24 May: Guest Speaker Dr Andrew Curley

For this session we were joined by Dr. Andrew Curley who is an Assistant Professor in the School of Geography, Development and the Environment at the University of Arizona to discuss Native Infrastructures and Colonialism.

  • 10 May: Decolonising Knowledge

Sarah A. Radcliffe and Isabella M. Radhuber. ‘The Political Geographies of D/decolonization: Variegation and decolonial challenges of/in Geography,’ Political Geography 78 (2020).

T. Santiago-Vera, P.M. Rosset, A. Saldivar, B.G. Ferguson & V.E. Méndez. ‘Re-conceptualizing and decolonizing resilience from a peasant perspective.’ Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 45 no. 10 (2021): 1422–1440. 

  • 1 February: Land, Crops, and Sovereignty

Emily Mourad Hanna, Katrine Gro Friborg, and Mazin B. Qumsiyeh. ‘Temporal change in traditional knowledge and use of wild plants in Artas, Palestine.’ Palestine Exploration Quarterly (2021).

Anna Pigott. ‘Hocus pocus? Spirituality and soil care in biodynamic agriculture.’ Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space (November 2020).

Valentina Fonseca-Cepeda, C. Julián Idrobo, and Sebastián Restrepo. ‘The changing chagras: traditional ecological knowledge transformations in the Colombian Amazon.’ Ecology and Society 24, no. 1 (2019). 


  • 30 November: Speaker Professor Sigrid Schmalzer

For this session we heard from speaker Professor Sigrid Schmalzer, University of Massachusetts Amherst, with a talk titled "The Power of Systems" (Chapter Two of a book project in preparation, "Heritage and Survival: The Power of Agricultural Knowledge in the People's Republic of China").

  • 16 November: Crop Legacies of the Green Revolution

Ann Raeboline Lincy Eliazer Nelson, Kavitha Ravichandran, and Usha Antony. ‘The Impact of the Green Revolution on Indigenous Crops in India.’ Journal of Ethnic Foods 6 (2019).

Claiton Marcio da Silva and Claudio de Majo. ‘Towards the Soyacene: Narratives for an Environmental History of Soy in Latin America’s Southern Cone.’ Historia Ambiental, Latinoamericana y Caribeña 11 no. 1 (2021): 329–356.


  • 2 November: Gender, Race, and the Green Revolution

Aaron Eddens. ‘White Science and Indigenous Maize: The Racial Logics of the Green Revolution.’ The Journal of Peasant Studies 46, no. 3 (2019): 653–673.

Timothy W Lorek. ‘The Puerto Rican Connection: Recovering the “Cultural Triangle” in Global Histories of Agricultural Development.’ Agricultural History 94, no. 1 (2020): 108–40. 

Moses Mosonsieyiri Kansanga, Roger Antabe, Yujiro Sano, Sarah Mason-Renton, and Isaac Luginaah. ‘A Feminist Political Ecology of Agricultural Mechanization and Evolving Gendered On-farm Labor Dyanmics in Northern Ghana.’ Gender, Technology and Development 23, no. 3 (2019): 207–233.


  • 19 October: New Perspectives on the Green Revolution

Lídia Cabral, Poonam Pandery, and Xiaolu Xu. ‘Epic narratives of the Green Revolution in Brazil, China, and India.’ Agricultural and Human Values (2021).

Prakash Kumar, Timothy Lorek, Tore C. Olsson, Nicole Sackley, Sigrid Schmalzer, and Gabriela Soto Laveaga. ‘Roundtable: New Narratives of the Green Revolution.’ Agricultural History 91, no. 3 (2017): 397–422.

Optional Additional Reading: 

Jonathan Harwood. ‘Another Green Revolution? On the Perils of ‘Extracting Lessons’ from History,’ Development 61 (2018): 43–53.


  • 3 June:

Silva Garzón, Diego and Laura Gutiérrez Escobar. 'Revolturas: resisting multinational seed corporations and legal seed regimes through seed-saving practices and activism in Colombia.' The Journal of Peasant Studies 47, no. 4 (2020): 674–699. 

Saraiva, Tiago. 'California Cloning in French Algeria: Rooting Pieds Noirs and Uprooting Fellahs in the Orange Groves of the Mitidja.' In How Knowledge Moves, edited by John Krige, 95–119. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019. 

  • 20 May:

Holmes, Matthew. 'Somatic Hybridization: The Rise and Fall of a Mid-Twentieth-Century Biotechnology.' Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 48, no. 1 (2018): 1–23. 

Jiang, Lijing. 'The Socialist Origins of Artificial Carp Production in Maoist China.' Science, Technology, and Society 22, no. 1 (2017): 59–77. 

  • 6 May:

Federova, Maria. 'Seeds as Technology: The Russian Agricultural Bureau in New York and Soviet Agricultural Modernization, 1921–26.' The Russian Review 80, no. 2 (2021): 209–228. 

Berry, Dominic J. 'Plants Are Technologies.' In Histories of Technology, the Environment and Modern Britain, edited by Agar Jon and Ward Jacob, 161–85. London: UCL Press, 2018. 

  • 11 March:

Speaker: Stuart McCook, University of Guelph, 'A Fragile Abundance: The Roots of Unsustainability in the Global Coffee Industry.'

  • 25 February:

Jennifer K. Sedell. 'No fly zone? Spatializing regimes of perceptibility, uncertainty, and the ontological fight over quarantine pests in California.' Geoforum, in press (published online 2019).

Jessica Wang. 'Plants, insects, and the biological management of American empire: tropical agriculture in early twentieth-century Hawai‘i.' History and Technology 35, no. 3 (2019): 203–236.

  • 11 February:

Elizabeth Hoover. '“You Can't Say You're Sovereign if You Can't Feed Yourself”: Defining and Enacting Food Sovereignty in American Indian Community Gardening.' American Indian Culture and Research Journal 41, no. 3 (2017): 31–70.

Kyle Whyte. 'Indigenous Food Sovereignty, Renewal and U.S. Settler Colonialism.' The Routledge Handbook of Food Ethics, Forthcoming.


  • 28 January:

Harriet Ritvo. 'At the Edge of the Garden: Nature and Domestication in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain.' Huntington Library Quarterly 55, No. 3 (1992), pp. 363–378 

Catriona Sandilands. 'Dog Stranglers in the Park?: National and Vegetal Politics in Ontario's Rouge Valley.'  Journal of Canadian Studies 47, no. 3(2013): 93–122

Further Reading (optional):

Helen Anne Curry. 'Wanted Weeds: Environmental History in the Whipple Museum.' The Whipple Museum of the History of Science. 223-236. Cambridge: CUP, 2019. 

Harriet Ritvo. 'Invasion/Invasive.' Environmental Humanities 9, no. 1 (2017): 171–174.



  • 26 November:

Speaker: Dr Katie Dow, Cambridge research associate in sociology, 'Seed-Saving in London: Slow Ethnography in Times of Crisis.'

  • 12 November:

​Elaine Gan, 'An Unintended Race: Miracle Rice and the Green Revolution.' Environmental Philosophy 14, no. 1 (2017): 61–81, 

Hetherington, Kregg. 'Agribiopolitics: The Health of Plants and Humans in the Age of Monocrops.' Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 38, no. 4 (August 2020): 682–98.

  • 29 October:

Speaker: Dr Jessica J. Lee, Cambridge HPS, 'Gaps in Translation: On Taiwan's plants, language, and literature.'

  • 15 October:

Gabriela Soto Laveaga, 'Largo dislocare: connecting microhistories to remap and recenter histories of science.' History and Technology 34, no. 1 (2018):21–30.

Bray, Francesca, Barbara Hahn, John Bosco Lourdusamy, and Tiago Saraiva. 'Cropscapes and History.' Transfers 9, no. 1 (2019): 20–41.