The Profit of the EarthThe Global Seeds of American Agriculture

The Profit of the EarthThe Global Seeds of American Agriculture

Courtney Fullilove

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226454863

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The Profit of the Earth is a new history of American agricultural development, characterizing crop seeds as deep time technologies transformed by millennia of human intervention. While the contemporary United States is a patchwork of large-scale monocultures, the book explores unrealized alternatives, from a Midwestern prairie harvested for production of botanic medicines to an American South populated by smallholders cultivating tea. Understanding why these futures were unrealized, and at what cost, conjures the histories of diverse people, plants, and knowledge on the move. Weaving together the lives of German and Russian immigrant farmers, British colonial officers, prairie plant collectors, and Ohio pharmacists, the book explores how institutionalized research and development represented and transformed diverse local knowledge of plants and their cultivation. Fullilove recasts the amber waves of grain immortalized in "America the Beautiful" not as an inherited Eden, but rather a novel landscape constructed by transplanted seeds and the skilled labor of willing and unwilling immigrants. Through narratives of improvisation, appropriation, and loss, the author explores contradictions between ideologies of property rights and common use that persist in national and international development, challenging readers to rethink fantasies of global agriculture’s past and future.

Table of Contents

Front Matter

Part 1: Collection The Political Culture of Seeds: (Patent Office Building, Washington, DC; Fujian; Assam; South Carolina, 1842–59)

Part 2: Migration Wheat Culture and Immigrant Agricultural Knowledge: (Peabody, Kansas; Molochna, Taurida, 1871–1903)

Part 3 : Preservation Indigenous Plants and the Preservation of Biocultural Diversity: (Cincinnati, Ohio; Smithland, Kentucky; Earth Core, n.d.)

End Matter