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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 Timothy W. Lorek, eds. Agricultural Science as International Development: Historical Perspectives on the CGIAR Era. Cambridge University Press, in press.

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

with Ryan Nehring, eds. "The History of Crop Science and the Future of Food." Special issue of Plants, People, Planet, in press.

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


Recent peer-reviewed publications

'The Cornbelt’s Last Open Pollinated Corn: Agricultural Extension and the Origins of the Hybrid Corn Seed Industry," Plants, People, Planet, Early View (2023).

'Diversifying Description: Sweet Potato Science and International Agricultural Research after the Green Revolution', Agricultural History 97, no. 3 (2023): 414–447.

'Breeding Confusion: Hybrid Seeds and Histories of Agriculture', Journal of Peasant Studies 50, no. 3 (2023): 1037–1055.

'Data, Duplication, and Decentralisation: Gene Bank Management in the 1980s and 1990s,' 163–182 in Sabina Leonelli and Hugh Williamson, eds., Towards Responsible Plant Data Linkage: Data Challenges for Agricultural Research and Development (Cham: Springer, 2023)

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

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

with Colin K. Khoury et al., 'Crop Genetic Erosion: Understanding and Responding to Loss of Crop Diversity', New Phytologist 223, no. 1 (2022): 84–118.

'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.