Hi all! Like many of you have said, I feel like I’ve learned and grown a lot this semester. This project has been by far one of my favorites that I have done. Funnily enough, I was worried that this project wasn’t “academic” enough or “serious” enough to use as a project in graduate school since I’d come up with the idea simply by looking at a plant on my desk and thinking, “I wonder where these plants are from?” What I’ve found is that those thoughts bouncing around my head might actually lead to something pretty interesting.
I first began my research with my project proposal by plotting points on StoryMaps of the origins on houseplants using Plantopedia as my main source. I quickly noticed a pattern– while plants from all over the world can be grown indoors with the right conditions, many of the plants that are most popular and most prevalent tend to be from regions of the world with deep histories of exploitation by European powers.
I ended up going down a rabbit hole on the history of botany to find that botanic societies in Britain had a long history of allying themselves with the imperial government and the East India Company in the name of scientific research. While indoor plant cultivation had been in and out of fashion for centuries, the 1800s saw a surge in popularity of greenhouses, conservatories, and orangeries among the rich, wealthy, and upper-middle class thanks to a simple invention that made it possible to transport live plants from the colonized world back to Europe. The Wardian Case, essentially a mini-greenhouse, enabled botanists to expand their reaches, often in alliance with military and government powers. Tropical plants were fashionable, in part because the came from the colonized world– a world “untouched” by civilization.
As I dove into creating my final project, I chose StoryMaps because of the many interesting projects I have seen using StoryMaps and the user-friendly nature of the platform. One thing I have learned, however, is how platforms can both make a project possible and exciting, but also place limitations on it. While StoryMaps is easy to use, I found the express maps feature to be limiting in how I could map points onto the map. Rather than signifying areas on a map, I needed to create a map of points. While there was a highlight an area feature, it didn’t seem to fit my vision either. I ended up plotting plants using points, even though plants often grew in large spaces across entire regions. That said, I feel that my map is still effective in showing the connection between houseplants and colonization.
This class has proven to be extremely useful in my learning, and there are many skills I will be carrying with me as I move forward. I firmly believe that digital history has a lot of potential to make workin the history field more accessible to more people. I am interested to see what platforms and digital tools become available in the future and to see how historians make use of them.
Thank you all for a good semester and good luck on this final push to the end of the semester!
Photos used in poster taken by Severin Candrian on Unsplash.com.