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From Collection to Cultivation


Doctoral Project: Erinn Campbell

The increased pace of international trade after 1950 created new, ever-multiplying opportunities for stowaway pests and pathogens to travel around the world. Agricultural exchange pursued in the name of economic development and food security carried along invasive organisms poised to attack vulnerable monocrops. Pest invasion was by no means a new problem; an extensive body of historical scholarship has charted earlier circulations of human, animal, and plant pests and pathogens. By mid-century, many long-troublesome regional pests had already become global menaces (e.g., medfly), and many relatively innocuous organisms had become well-established invasive threats abroad (e.g., citrus canker). Still, the growing speed and volume of trade and travel in the post-GATT world seriously magnified the threat of invasive pests. Given the earlier twentieth century’s dismal record of costly, failed eradication attempts, and given growing evidence of the costs of heavy pesticide use, many phytosanitary experts around the world agreed that the most efficient way to deal with invasive plant pests was to prevent them from invading in the first place. 

However, improving pest exclusion practices would require far more accurate foreknowledge of pest mobilities than was available by 1950 to even the best-funded national plant protection organizations. The signing of the International Plant Protection Convention in 1951 marked the start of a cooperative, future-oriented turn in plant protection which historians of plant health have overlooked. This project explores this shift to consider how, from this point to the present, phytosanitary experts collaborated across borders to better anticipate the global movements and impacts of invasive plant pests. I trace how they built bureaucratic, intellectual, and informational networks on regional and global scales to better coordinate phytosanitary work, circulate news of outbreaks, and share innovative forecasting and control techniques.  

Keywords: invasive species, plant quarantine, pesticides 

Recent presentations by Erinn Campbell on pest invasion prediction:

'Anticipating the impact of invasive plant pests and pathogens, 1989–2007,' Calculus and Contagion: An Epidemy Project Workshop, University of Edinburgh, 16–17 June 2022.

'Pest forecasting as performance: Standardizing pest risk analysis in agricultural trade,' Agricultural History Society Annual Meeting, University of Stavanger, 4–6 August 2022.

'"Operational guidelines" or a "conceptual framework"? Standardizing consequence forecasting for invasive plant pests, 1989–2007', Global and Planetary Histories: Materialisms Old and New, Deep Time, and Multi-Species Relationships, European University Institute, 13–14 October 2022.