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Plant Humanities Initiative

In September 2018 Dumbarton Oaks received a three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with a sister grant to JSTOR Labs, to advance Plant Humanities. This new, interdisciplinary field explores and communicates the unparalleled significance of plants to human culture. Plants offer remarkable scope for research and interpretation due to their global mobility and historical significance to human cultures. Their travels offer intriguing roadmaps to cross-cultural exchange and the movement of people, while the importance of plants to fields as diverse as medicine, the history of science, environmental studies, art, and art history renders them a compelling focus for interdisciplinary conversations. Climate change and environmental degradation add to the urgency of researching plant-human interactions and combating the inability to recognize and acknowledge the diversity and importance of plants that has become known as plant blindness.

The Plant Humanities Initiative integrates digital humanities with scholarly programming, building on the strengths of the two partner organizations, Dumbarton Oaks and JSTOR Labs. A product of this collaboration is a digital platform that will highlight rare and unique materials in the Dumbarton Oaks rare book collection and connect these materials to Global Plants and other primary and secondary digitized sources through interactive and visually engaging storytelling. Our hope is that by bringing together different resources related to plants, this endeavor will generate new research questions. To develop the content for the digital platform, Dumbarton Oaks offers new research and professional development opportunities for early-career humanists through an array of scholarly programs.

Following a model that is also being applied to other Dumbarton Oaks projects, the project team includes graduate students, post-doctoral researchers and staff. These scholars and digital humanists draw on the riches of the research library, the historic garden, and a rare book collection that is particularly strong in garden history, landscape architecture, botanical illustration, and plant history.

To be added to the Plant Humanities mailing list, please submit your contact information.

Plant Humanities Team at Dumbarton Oaks

Courtney Randolph, Taylor Johnson, Ashley Buchanan, Yota Batsaki, and Anatole Tchikine
Courtney Randolph, Taylor Johnson, Ashley Buchanan, Yota Batsaki, and Anatole Tchikine

Recent Press

Advisory Committee

The Dumbarton Oaks and JSTOR Plant Humanities Initiative draws on the expertise of the joint Advisory Committee convened in October of 2018 to provide advice on scholarly programming, the development of the digital platform, and the selection of academic-year fellows.

  • Janet Browne, Professor of History of Science, Harvard University
  • Peter Crane, President, Oak Spring Garden Foundation
  • Martin Kalfatovic, Associate Director, Smithsonian Libraries and Program Director, The Biodiversity Heritage Library
  • Vanessa Sellers, Director, Humanities Institute, New York Botanical Garden
  • Romita Ray, Associate Professor of Art and Music Histories, Syracuse University
  • John Unsworth, University Librarian and Dean of Libraries, University of Virginia

Scholarly Opportunities

Virtual Residencies: Plant Humanities Lab

June 6–17, 2022 | Two-week virtual faculty residencies to facilitate the integration of the Plant Humanities Lab and associated resources into curricula related to plants and people.

2022 Plant Humanities Summer Program

June 27–August 12, 2022 | Program for advanced undergraduates and graduate students with an interest in plants from the perspectives of botany, botanical exploration, the history of science and medicine, environmental studies, art history, literature, and the history of the book and botanical illustration.

People and Scholarship

Public Outreach