Plants are technologies

Dominic Berry

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

As the opening chapter of this volume makes clear, historians of technology and the environment have already shifted towards seeing nature and technology as complexly integrated. My chapter concerns the extent of that integration. I tackle one issue in particular, that of howto understand the organism as technology. This question is a source of lingering uneasiness. For example, the recent and provocative The Illusory Boundary is dedicated to integrating technological and environmental history. However, the authors of its final survey chapter, Hugh S. Gorman and Betsy Mendelsohn, while emphasising the above shift also highlight an attendant ambiguity, that in this new scholarship ‘it is not always clear where the machine ends and nature starts’.1 Meanwhile co- editor of that volume, Martin Reuss, does not address organisms directly,but concludes that as a result of this work the ‘Imagined boundaries between technology and environment shift, splinter, and dissolve into meaninglessness’.2 Given his misgivings about the organism as technology,as articulated in a 2001 email list discussion that many historians have considered important for building the ‘envirotech’ space, does his conclusion indeed hold for biological things?3 I argue that when it comes to organisms, historians have not reached meaninglessness, that rendering such a distinction ‘meaningless’ is not really the aim, but that we can and should analyse organisms as technologies. Doing so expands the scope of historical enquiry by revising unhelpful assumptions while also making historical discussions relevant to a wider (non- historical)readership.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTechnology, Environment and Modern Britain
EditorsJon Agar, Jacob Ward
PublisherUCL Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781911576600, 9781911576617, 9781911576624
ISBN (Print)9781911576570, 9781911576594, 9781911576587
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2018


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