Hannah Anderson

Wolf Humanities Center Doctoral Fellow

20182019 Forum on Stuff

Hannah Anderson

Doctoral Candidate, History

Hannah Anderson completed her undergraduate training at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia. She entered Penn’s doctoral program in history in 2014. She is writing a dissertation on settler colonialism and natural history in the Atlantic world from the seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century. She is grateful for support from the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Library Company of Philadelphia. 

Lived Botany: Domesticity, Settler Colonialism and Ecological Adaptation in Early British America

Are plants stuff? Contemporary North Americans often see environmental resources as the materials for creating stuff, such as furniture, food and clothing, rather than stuff itself. British colonists, however, did not clearly distinguish between nature and useful object. My term, “lived botany,” captures how non-elite settlers used tactile and material cultural ways of knowing to analyze plants. Settlers believed plants were divinely designed as proto-stuff whose physical properties suggested their ultimate utility after transformation within the household. They identified plants by comparing them to objects. Through lived botany, settlers sought to translate indigenous knowledge into forms of information that were familiar to Europeans. Settlers’ lived botany provided data to local elites participating in transatlantic scientific networks, but it primarily aided settler families whose prosperity dispossessed indigenous peoples, turning lived botany into a destructive knowledge.