So, what about some particular examples?
Well, one of the first papers to stand out was the collaboration between Jean Beigbeder, agricultural engineer and Vice President of Pro-Maïs, and Maryse Carrareto, an anthropologist. Pro-Maïs is an organisation dedicated to collecting and maintaining the hundreds of landraces of maize to be found across France. While working with large commercial partners, they are dedicated to releasing these biomaterials to anyone who seeks to use them for breeding and growing. Though there may be aspects of this organisation that we might wish to investigate further (for instance, the effects of relying on material transfer agreements as the mechanism for providing access to varieties) it is nevertheless a very impressive organisation, made all the more so by their recent database efforts. Rather than merely list all varieties, regions of origin, and so on, they have collaborated with Carrereto to collect evidence of traditional farmer knowledge surrounding their growth. This information is to be included as part of the varietal database (containing well over 1000 distinct forms), and Carrereto’s extensive report has been made available online here. In this instance, a historian is collaborating with scientists in order to improve their equipment (electronic database), while scientists and breeders are reminded that there is an underused knowledge resource at the heart of farming; the grower.
There is space enough in this post to include one other example. Anna Svensson, a PhD student at KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm), presented her research into early modern herbaria, focussing in particular on the botanic gardens of Oxford University. Here the expertise between scientists and historians was arranged slightly differently, as she is working with Dr Stephen Harris, Druce Curator of the Oxford University Herbaria, to conduct a detailed investigation of the gardens, their accession catalogues, and the associated herbaria. The latter are of special interest as herbaria in this period were bound in leather volumes like books, rather than being kept on the more familiar loose sheets that we are familiar with today. In tune with principles that guide Cultivating Innovation, Svensson’s project recognises that the meanings of plants are constituted both by biology and history, and that - in her words - “there is not always a clear distinction between a ‘botanical’ and ‘historical’ reading of the herbarium.” Within biology this perspective can be expanded well beyond plants, vastly increasing the potential scope for interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists and historians. We hope you’ll join us for future discussion of the same.