Victoria Johnson, Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College, studied at The New York Botanical Garden’s Humanities Institute during the summer of 2016 as a Mellon Visiting Scholar, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Dr. Johnson conducted research for her biography of David Hosack (1769-1835), an American doctor best known today as the attending physician at the July 1804 duel between his friends Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. In 1801, Hosack founded the Elgin Botanic Garden, a pioneering medical research garden where he amassed thousands of native and non-native species and trained a generation of doctors and botanists. His former land is now the site of Rockefeller Center.
In her research at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library and Archives, Dr. Johnson drew on primary sources connected with Hosack’s life and work, including plant catalogues from the Elgin Botanic Garden and botanical treatises Hosack had brought back from his studies in Britain as a young doctor. She also studied archival sources connected with Hosack’s botany students as well as dried plant specimens collected for the Elgin Botanic Garden by Hosack and his students (held today by the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium).
Dr. Johnson’s work was published in 2018 as American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic (Liveright/W. W. Norton, 2018). The book was named a Notable Book of 2018 by the New York Times and was one of five finalists for the 2018 National Book Award in Nonfiction. For more information, see americaneden.org.
On Friday, April 19, 2019, the Humanities Institute and NYBG’s Adult Education department welcomed a large crowd to the celebration of the 250th Anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt with bestselling author Andrea Wulf. Her last book, The Invention of Nature, won many literary awards and was on The New York Times‘ Top Ten Books list. Her new graphic novel, The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, highlights the five-year expedition Alexander von Humboldt undertook in South America. Wulf collaborated with illustrator Lillian Melcher to capture the words and images of Humboldt’s personal diary and sketches which detailed his experience of the journey.
On Friday, April 12, 2019, the Humanities Institute, in collaboration with NYBG’s Horticulture and Living Collections and the Center for Conservation Strategy, presented the symposium Nature at Your Doorstep, celebrating the public participant in nature research. The symposium, featuring five energetic experts, officially opened National Citizen Science Day at The New York Botanical Garden, with programs and garden-wide activities extending throughout the weekend.
Friday, March 15, 2019 marked the Sixth Annual Humanities Symposium. To celebrate the occasion, the Humanities Institute, together with NYBG’s Department of Adult Education, invited audiences to the screening of an important new documentary, Beatrix Farrands’s American Landscapes.
Opening the program was Carrie Rebora Barratt, Chief Executive Officer and William C. Steere Sr. President of NYBG, who enthusiastically welcomed the audience stating that the film screening could not have been timelier as March was Women’s History Month. She continued to say that celebrating Beatrix Farrand—the only female charter member of the American Society of Landscape Architects—was to acknowledge the vital role women have played and continue to play in American history and culture today.
On September 20, 2018, The New York Botanical Garden’s Humanities Institute, NYBG Herbarium, and NYBG Conservation and Horticulture staff, students, and fellows visited Barnard College. They were invited for a special botanical Open House at the Arthur Ross Greenhouse in conjunction with the 20th Anniversary of this remarkable facility. The Arthur Ross Greenhouse is a large, state-of-the-art structure balancing high above Broadway & 120th Street atop Milbank Hall that is open to the Barnard and Columbia communities and used by its faculty to teach students about plants and plant evolution.
Samantha D’Acunto and Vanessa Sellers, Humanities Institute, Mertz Library
Each summer the Humanities Institute, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, welcomes Junior Mellon Fellows to conduct their own research at the New York Botanical Garden. They are invited to discover the resources held at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, its Archives, the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium and the Garden’s Living Collections. As they prepare to leave after their summer of research, they are asked to present their findings to colleagues, NYBG staff, their institutional advisors and professors from surrounding universities, as well as an interested public audience.
On Friday, August 17th Keren Alfred, a recent graduate from Brown University, and Vanessa Sun, a current student at the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College prepared to share their findings. As an introduction to her presentation The Development of Jamaican Root Tonics, Keren Alfred offered a taste of various Jamaican tonics at the reception’s refreshment table, which was enjoyed by all. These tasty fermented beverages are used widely throughout Jamaica and Jamaican communities as health aids of various kinds, she explained. Working together with Dr. Ina Vandebroek, Matthew Calbraith Perry Associate Curator of Economic Botany and Caribbean Program Director, Keren spent the summer looking at the development of root tonics from an ethnobotanical, community-health, and cultural-historical point of view Using historical literature on Jamaican plants from the Mertz Library, Alfred set out to discover when tonics were first developed or introduced in Jamaica. She found the earliest reference to tonics to be dating back only to 1927, more recently than expected, while it was not until 1953 that the word “tonic” itself was actually used to describe the plant-based beverages Sarsaparilla smilex and Smilex aspera were among the plants singled out by Alfred’s research as key ingredients to root tonic.
On April 27, 2018 the Humanities Institute hosted Japan Study Day, a day of celebrating Japanese arts and sciences in the field of natural history and garden design. Visitors were welcomed with a soft misty rain, here and there mixed with a few pink petals, as they entered the Garden that morning. Due to the unusually cold spring, the Cherry Trees happened to be at their peak bloom. It was a perfect day for the traditional celebration of ‘Sakura,’ the flowering of the Cherry Trees. Japan Study Day participants were invited to join a conversation led by a brilliant panel of speakers from around the globe. Leading the conversation was Prof. Federico Marcon, Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University; Prof. Harmen Beukers from the Scaliger Institute, Leiden, the Netherlands and the University of Nagasaki; and Ryosuke Kondo, Ph.D. candidate from the Department of Landscape Architecture, Tokyo University.
This year’s Humanities Institute Symposium again brought together a large body of students, scholars, horticulturists, foresters, environmental specialists, tree-lovers, and other researchers and professionals to explore a topic vital to this day and age. While last year’s symposium looked at the challenge of climate change, this year’s symposium, Plant Intelligence, was focused on an equally challenging question: Do plants have intelligence? Using the latest biological evidence, several renowned scientists explored this key question by sharing new discoveries in forest and lab, offering new insights into the inner life of plants. Their findings—including astonishing examples of plant signaling and information processing—challenged the audience’s common perception of plants and presented new paradigms for the understanding of nature.
On September 7, 2017, The New York Botanical Garden’s Humanities Institute and the Foundation for Landscape Studies, New York, co-hosted the Colloquium Carmontelle’s Jardin de Monceau: Celebrating the unique Garden Culture of 18th-century France, held in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Shelby White and Leon Levy Reading Room.
The Colloquium marked the starting point of an important project: the publication of a facsimile edition in English of the richly illustrated Jardin de Monceau, an impressive folio-sized volume by Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle (1717–1806), published in Paris in 1779. Designed by Carmontelle for the Duc de Chartres, the actual garden of Monceau still survives today, though in different form, as the much-frequented Parc Monceau at the heart of Paris. The original layout of the garden, with its rich architectural and sculptural features, formed an ideal social setting for the fashionable elite shortly before the French Revolution—a watershed moment in European history that would bring to an end the glamorous lifestyle and mode of garden design reflected in this work. Carmontelle’s Jardin de Monceau is a key cultural monument in the history of European landscape design, garden architecture, and horticulture, as well as printmaking and fashion design.
During the last week of June, the Humanities Institute at NYBG hosted a special Study Day for a group of landscape historians and professionals, including architectural historians, garden and landscape designers, and urban planners. The aim of this program was to provide current students and professionals with a comprehensive insider tour of The New York Botanical Garden as one of America’s foremost urban green spaces—a national landmark comprising historic buildings and rare plant and book collections.