skip to content

Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Honorary Senior Research Fellow

I’m the Kranzberg Professor in the History of Technology in the School of History and Sociology at Georgia Tech. I research and teach the history of recent science and technology, especially as it relates to food and agriculture.

Since August 2020, I’ve led the project 'From Collection to Cultivation: Historical Perspectives on Crop Diversity and Food Security', funded by the Wellcome Trust. This team of researchers is re-writing the history of how today’s food crops came to be. The project is based in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, where I worked from 2012–2022. You can follow the team's progress on our research blog.

From Collection to Cultivation has its origins in my study of history of efforts to conserve diverse varieties of food crops. This history was the focus of a Pro Futura Scientia Fellowship from 2017–2020 and a Wellcome Seed Award from 2016–17. It is also the subject of my 2022 book, Endangered Maize: Industrial Agriculture and the Crisis of Extinction. You can learn more about this research from archived presentations on the history of seed banking and seed saving or open access publications on seed vaults, vegetable sanctuaries, and international crop conservation programs.

I've always been interested in the tools and techniques behind the foods we eat. My 2016 book Evolution Made to Order: Plant Breeding and Technological Innovation in Twentieth Century America traces the history of several early technologies used to modify genes and chromosomes, including their application as novel methods of plant breeding. You can learn more in a review of the book that was published in Science in November 2016 or my interview with the New Books Network. This research featured in the virtual reality game Seed, which allows players to tinker with plants and genes just like the amateur plant breeders I've written about.

While at the University of Cambridge, I collaborated with Nick Jardine, Emma Spary, and James Secord on Worlds of Natural History, an edited volume that charts the history of natural history, from Aztec accounts of hibernating hummingbirds to contemporary television spectaculars.


Research interests

Histories of 20th and 21st century sciences and technology, especially biology and biotechnology; histories of agriculture, horticulture and gardening; histories of conservation and environmentalism; global environmental histories.


Books & edited collections

Endangered Maize: Industrial Agriculture and the Crisis of Extinction. Oakland: University of California Press, 2022.

Evolution Made to Order: Plant Breeding and Technological Innovation in Twentieth-Century America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

with N. Jardine, J. A. Secord, and E. C. Spary, eds. Worlds of Natural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, November 2018.

Ed., "The Collection and Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources," Culture, Agriculture, Food & Environment 4, no. 2 (December 2019).


Journal articles

'The History of Seed Banks and the Hazards of Backup', Social Studies of Science 52, no. 5 (2022): 664–688.

'Taxonomy, Race Science, and Mexican Maize', Isis 112, no. 1 (2021): 1–22. [Open Access Repository.]

'Gene Banks, Seed Libraries, and Vegetable Sanctuaries: The Cultivation and Conservation of Heritage Vegetables in Britain, 1970–1985', Culture, Agriculture, Food, and Environment 41, no. 2 (2019): 87–96.

'From Bean Collection to Seed Bank: Transformations in Heirloom Vegetable Conservation, 1970–1985', BJHS Themes 4 (2019): 149–167.

'From Working Collections to the World Germplasm Project: Agricultural Modernization and Genetic Conservation at the Rockefeller Foundation', History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 39, no. 5 (June 2017). [Open Access Repository.]

'Breeding Uniformity and Banking Diversity: The Genescapes of Industrial Agriculture, 1935–1970', Global Environment 10, no. 1 (April 2017): 83–113. [Open Access Repository.]

'Atoms in Agriculture: A Study of Scientific Innovation between Technological Systems', Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 46 (2016): 119–153. [Open Access Repository.]

'From Garden Biotech to Garage Biotech: Amateur Experimental Biology in Historical Perspective', British Journal for the History of Science 47 (2014): 539–565.

'Radiation and Restoration; or, How Best to Make a Blight-Resistant Chestnut Tree', Environmental History 19 (2014): 217–238.

'Industrial Evolution: Mechanical and Biological Innovation at the General Electric Research Laboratory', Technology and Culture 54 (2013): 746–781.

'Naturalizing the Exotic and Exoticising the Naturalized: Horticulture, Natural History and the Rosy Periwinkle', Environment and History 18 (2012): 343–365.


Co-authored articles

Sarah Garland and Helen Anne Curry, 'Turning Promise into Practice: Crop Biotechnology for Increasing Genetic Diversity and Climate Resilience', PLoS Biology 20, no. 7 (2022): e3001716.

Colin K. Khoury, Stephen Brush, Denise E. Costich, Helen Anne Curry, Stef de Haan, Johannes M. M. Engels, Luigi Guarino, Sean Hoban, Kristin L. Mercer, Allison J. Miller, Gary P. Nabhan, Hugo R. Perales, Chris Richards, Chance Riggins, Imke Thormann, 'Crop Genetic Erosion: Understanding and Responding to Loss of Crop Diversity', New Phytologist 223, no. 1 (2022): 84–118.


Contributed chapters

'Data, Duplication, and Decentralisation: Gene Bank Management in the 1980s and 1990s', in Sabina Leonelli and Hugh Williamson, eds., Towards Responsible Plant Data Linkage: Global Challenges for Food Security and Governance (forthcoming).

'A Short History of Seed Keeping', in Jeannie Whayne, ed., The Oxford Handbook of the History of Agriculture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

'Wanted Weeds: Environmental History in the Whipple Museum', in J. Nall and L. Taub, eds., The Whipple Museum of the History of Science (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2019): 223–236.

'Imperilled Crops and Endangered Flowers', in H. A. Curry, N. Jardine, J. A. Secord, and E. C. Spary, eds., Worlds of Natural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, November 2018): 460–475.

'Speeding Up Evolution: X-Rays and Plant Breeding in the United States, 1925–1935', New Perspectives on the History of Life Sciences and Agriculture, edited by Denise Phillips and Sharon Kingsland (Dordrecht: Springer Verlag, 2015): 459–478.


Short articles

'Hybrid Seeds in History and Historiography', Isis 113, no. 3 (2022): 610–617. [Open Access Version]

'The Race to Protect the Food of the Future', The Conversation, 25 January 2022.

'Going Beyond Seed Banks', The Scientist, 17 January 2022.

'Why Save a Seed', Isis 110, no. 2 (2019): 337–340.

'How Gardeners are Reclaiming Agriculture from Industry, One Seed at a Time', The Conversation, 18 December 2019.

'X-ray Lilies and Atomic Marigolds', The Conversation, 24 May 2016.

'Tomato Seeds in Space: NASA Outreach and Science Education in the Shuttle Era', Endeavour 34 (2010): 173–180.


Book reviews

Review of Stuart McCook, Coffee is Not Forever: A Global History of the Coffee Leaf Rust (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2019), Environmental History 25, no. 4 (October 2020): 813–814.

Review of Bruno J. Strasser, Collecting Experiments: Making Big Data Biology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019), FASEB Journal 34, no. 3 (March 2020): 3445–3447.

'Profits, Prejudice, and Plant Patents', review of Mara Hvistendahl, The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage (Riverhead Books, 2020), Science 367, no. 6477 (31 Jan 2020): 517.

Review of Tore C. Olsson, Agrarian Crossings: Reformers and the Remaking of the US and Mexican Countryside (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), Agricultural History 92, no. 2 (Spring 2018): 283–285.

'Extension and Experiment: The Politics of Modern Agricultural Science', essay review of Sigrid Schmalzer, Red Revolution, Green Revolution: Scientific Farming in Socialist China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016) and Tiago Saraiva, Fascist Pigs: Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2016), Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, available online 4 April 2017. [Open Access Repository]

'The Beauty of Botanicals', review of Richard Mabey, The Cabaret of Plants (New York: Norton, 2016) in Science 351, no. 6271 (22 January 2016): 346.

Review of Kendra Smith-Howard, Pure and Modern Milk: An Environmental History Since 1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) in H-Environment Roundtable Reviews 5, no. 4 (20 July 2015).

'The Living Element', review of Luis A. Campos, Radium and the Secret of Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015) in Science 348, no. 6242 (26 June 2015): 1435.

Review of Sally Gregory Kohlstedt and David Kaiser (eds.), Science and the American Century: Readings from Isis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), in Social History of Medicine 27, no. 1 (2014): 183–185.