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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


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 on Mondays, 2pm–3pm, in the HPS Board Room to discuss papers or presentations. Most meetings will be hybrid, with an option to participate via Zoom. Write to to subscribe.

Organised by Helen Anne Curry.

Michaelmas Term 2022

In Michaelmas our reading and conversation will focus on the history of oil palm, drawing especially on Jonathan Robins's award-winning Oil Palm: A Global History (UNC Press, 2021).

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.

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.

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.

28 November: Labour and the Future

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.