The Garden Politic

This week’s review applies a botanical lens to writing from 19th-century authors, analyzing how writers’ attitudes toward plants contributed to their political actions.

The Garden Politic: Global Plants and Botanical Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century America

Kuhn, Mary. New York University, 2023
272p bibl index, 9781479820122 $89.00, 9781479820153 $30.00, 9781479820160

The Garden Politic Global Plants and Botanical Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century America book cover.

Throughout history plants have represented more than simple objects of beauty or passive actors within a landscape. Kuhn (Univ. of Virginia) asks readers to pause and take a closer look at the politics of plants. The book interweaves an examination of works of 19th-century writers living in New England with the social and political movements of that time. Rather than focusing on the taming of wilderness, Kuhn employs a more intimate lens to examine people’s attitudes and actions with regard to gardens and houseplants. Each chapter features the writings of a significant author such as Emily Dickinson or Frederick Douglass, both of whom also happened to be avid horticulturists. The final chapter establishes connections between the writings of the past with recent popular and academic scientific works that represent a shift in the way humans view plant life. Kuhn’s elegantly crafted arguments represent a valuable addition to the burgeoning discipline of environmental humanities and aligns with the field of ecocriticism. It also reminds readers of the importance of imagination—works crafted within the humanities, and not just science or politics—to tackle the myriad global environmental challenges we face today.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students and faculty. General readers.
Reviewer
: E. G. Harrington, Universities at Shady Grove
Interdisciplinary Subject: Environmental Studies
Subject: Science & Technology – Biology – Botany
Choice Issue: Dec 2023


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