“The Prospect and the Rarities,” a Case for the Early National Garden

“The Prospect and the Rarities,” a Case for the Early National Garden

In 1714, Louis XIV of France obtained a coffee plant from officials in Amsterdam.  The plant’s lineage as a direct descendant of the original tree in Java conveyed key elements of monarchical authority:  the demonstration of the king’s unique access to overseas specimens and his central position in the webs of information, exchange, and power.[1]  That spectacle of cosmopolitanism was on display in the palace garden and by extension the scientific garden established in Paris, the Jardin Royal des Plantes.  Construction of the Jardin Royal des Plantes was proposed by the king’s botanist and doctor, Jean Hérouard, and it streamlined the scientific, medicinal, and economic aims of empire that were prominent among European sovereigns.

My years of thinking about the place of commodities like coffee, sugar, and cotton within production and distribution chains meant that the garden, as both a universal and recognizable form, appeared again and again.  Over time, I’ve come across various kinds of gardens large and small, and I’ve often wondered about their usefulness in serving as an aid to learning, discovery, and as historical case studies. Though generally humble spaces, they hold out possibilities for looking at cultural tales, national flavors, and the circuits of consumption for the early national period of American history. Continue reading

Q&A: Jeremi Suri, author of The Impossible Presidency

The question of whether the office of the Presidency is too unwieldy with its ever-expanding duties has once again engaged pundits. Most recently, journalist Scott Dickerson’s article raised the issue, a piece which includes the recent study by Jeremi Suri, The Impossible Presidency (New York: Basic Books, 2017). Presidents often used similar rhetorical messages–from Washington to Franklin D.Roosevelt. Suri views one of the mounting obstacles to the presidency as being a discursive problem. Interestingly, the use of language, so central to the presidency, with its surprisingly similar messaging overtime, produced unintended, and often times, inverted outcomes in its collision with capitalism and technology. Suri is currently Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs and Professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at University of Texas, Austin.   Continue reading