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date: 24 March 2023

Lay Expertise, Botanical Science, and Botanic Gardens as “Contact Zones”locked

Lay Expertise, Botanical Science, and Botanic Gardens as “Contact Zones”locked

  • Katja NevesKatja NevesConcordia University


Botanic gardens came into existence in the late 1500s to document, study, and preserve plants originating from all over the world. The scientific field of botany was a direct outcome of these developments. From the 1600s onward, botanic gardens also paid key roles in acclimatizing plants across distinct ecosystems and respective climate zones. This often entailed the appropriation of Indigenous systems of plant expertise that were then used without recognition within the parameters of scientific botanical expertise. As such, botanic gardens operated as contact zones of unequal power dynamics between European and Indigenous knowledge systems. Botanic gardens were intimately embroiled with the global expansion of European colonialism and processes of empire building. They helped facilitate the establishment of cash-crop systems around the world, which effectively amounted to the extractive systems of plant wealth accumulation that characterize the modern European colonial enterprise. In the mid-20th century, botanic gardens began to take on leading roles in the conservation of plant biodiversity while also attending to issues of social equity and sustainable development. Relationships between lay expertise and scientific knowledge acquired renewed significance in this context, as did discussions of the knowledge politics that these interactions entailed. As a consequence of these transformations, former colonial exchanges within the botanical garden world between Indigenous knowledge practices and their appropriation by science came under scrutiny in the final decades of the 20th century. Efforts to decolonize botanic gardens and their knowledge practices emerged in the second decade of the 20th century.


  • Environmental History

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