Plant Talk

The Humanities Institute Spring 2020 Programs: From City of Science to Women in the Sciences

Posted in What's On at NYBG on April 11, 2020, by Humanities Institute

The Humanities Institute and the LuEsther T. Mertz Library staff at the New York Botanical Garden had a busy Spring, packed with exciting programming and events, here is a recap.

City of Science at Lehman College
On February 9, staff from the Humanities Institute, the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, and the William & Lynda Steere Herbarium inspired budding scientists of all ages at the World of Science Festival’s City of Science event at Lehman College in the Bronx. Visitors explored the expansive digital collections of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, challenged each other in matching plants to their habitats, took group photos as vegetables and plant specimens at the photo booth, and learned about future public programs hosted by the NYBG Science, Conservation, & Humanities weekly lecture series. With the Herbarium staff and volunteers, visitors tested their plant knowledge through touch, sight, and scents, using microscopes, specimen samples, and craft supplies!

Photo of Nuala Caomhanach speaking with young students

Nuala Caomhánach engages young students at the City of Science Day at Lehman College.

Black Botany: The Nature of Black Experience
In celebration of Black History Month, Rashad Bell, MLIS, Collection Maintenance Associate, and Humanities Institute Mellon Fellow and Nuala Caomhanach teamed up to curate and develop the exhibit Black Botany: The Nature of Black Experience. The exhibit explores the complex relationship between enslaved Black people, nature, and the colonial environment through five plants—cotton, the peacock flower, rice, the peanut, and the vanilla orchid. With the collaborative support of the Herbarium and Conservation staff the exhibit was able to provide visitors with a unique experience to explore the varied roles Black people played in the innovation and impact of these plants through collection items and historic specimens.

Photo of Rashad Bell speaking with Councilmembers

Rashad Bell engages council members for the Bronx 16th district with the exhibit Black Botany.

A Bronx Black History Month Celebration
A portion of the Black Botany: The Nature of Black Experience exhibit travelled (just down the Tulip Tree Allee!) to join in on the Black History Month celebrations hosted by District 16 New York City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson at the Hudson Garden Grill. There Rashad Bell, Mertz Library Collection Maintenance Associate, and Humanities Institute Fellow Nuala Caomhanach engaged community members with exhibit pieces and in deep conversation regarding the key roles that Black people played in the innovation and impact of these plants.

American Gardens and the Black Diaspora
On February 21, School of Professional Horticulture alumni and horticulturist Wambui Ippolito was invited to speak at the NYBG Science, Conservation, & Humanities weekly lecture series on her research and exploration of the Black Diasporan ornamental gardens, as well as the growers, garden clubs, and horticulturists associated with them. In her presentation “American Gardens and the Black Diaspora,” Ippolito recounted the gardens of famed poet and civil rights activist Anne Spencer, the culinary research and innovations of Gullah chefs, and the centuries-old African gardening techniques that are still used today! The presentation inspired heartfelt conversation and reflection amongst attendees, including discussions of how to approach research of histories and communities excluded from traditional modes of scholarship.

Photo of Wambui with Rashad and Nuala

Speaker Wambui Ippolito, at center, in conversation with Rashad Bell and Nuala Caomhanach

Dumbarton Oaks Humanities Fellows Visit to NYBG
The Humanities Institute was pleased to welcome the Dumbarton Oaks Mellon Plant Humanities Fellows to NYBG on February 19 and 20. They joined the Humanities Director and Mertz Library staff in a whirlwind of activities during their two-day exploration of the Garden and its collections. Started by a conversation on health and nutrition in New York with Dr. Ina Vandebroek, Curator of Economic Botany and Caribbean Program Director, Institute of Economic Botany, they received in-depth and lively tours of different areas of the Garden, from the Nolen Greenhouses with Director Marc Hachadourian, focused on rare an exotic plants, to the Edible Academy with Director Toby Adams, who explained the importance of teaching children how to grow plants and enjoy healthy nutrition.

The Life and Legacy of Russell Page
In a packed auditorium attendees enjoyed a wonderful presentation by Christoher Woodward, Director of the London Garden Museum on “The Life and Legacy of Russell Page,” with special emphasis on Page’s American works during the last decade of his career, including The Frick Collection, the PepsiCo Sculpture Garden in Greenwich, and Central Park. Afterwards, attendees were invited to view related Landscape Design History treasures and works of inspiration from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Rare Book Collections.

Photo of Dumbarton Oaks visitors exploring the Nolen Greenhouses and Library

Dumbarton Oaks’s Plant Humanities Fellows speak with Ina Vandebroek in the Mertz Library; and with Marc Hachadourian during a tour of the Nolen Greenhouses.

The Earth in Her Hands
Spring programming with a live audience came to a halt on March 13, with The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants, an event that became a filmed conversation without public participants due to COVID-19. Co-presented with Adult Education, and celebrating Women’s History Month, this lively discussion among two well-known authors, Jennifer Jewel and Jamaica Kincaid, delved deeply into the many ways in which women in horticulture and the natural sciences have impacted society. Jennifer Jewell, host of public radio’s Cultivating Place, shared stories about the paradigm-shifting women she profiles in her recently published book, The Earth in Her Hands; Jamaica Kincaid, award-winning Caribbean-American writer known for her evocative portrayals of colonial legacy, gender, and race, spoke about her essays and memoirs focusing on landscape and gardens.

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