ISHPSSB 2001 || Quinnipiac University, July 18-22, 2001

Hothouses for Science: Hybrid Institutions and the Study of Plants I & II

Agricultural experiment stations, land grant colleges, horticultural societies, and botanical gardens have all shaped the study of plants in the United States. At these hybrid institutions, practical challenges and theoretical concerns have been both fortuitously juxtaposed and creatively fused to advance many sciences--from botany, horticulture, and agronomy to genetics and evolutionary theory. Our subject is this interplay, both scientific and institutional, across several points and places in the history of the plant sciences in the United States.

Organized by: Kim Kleinman

Barbara Kimmelman, Philadelphia University
"Hybrid Institutions in Science"
Hybrid institutions are those which manifest in both their administrative structure and in their functional activities characteristics of two or more clearly identifiable cultural institutions with a coherent and unified structure and function. They are therefore not merely institutions with multiple functions or constituencies; if so, virtually every institution would qualify. What I refer to as "hybrid institutions" are simultaneously and quite literally several things in one, and their "hybrid" nature is explicit and purposeful, and manifested in the material form they take. What I call the agricultural college/experiment station complex during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries is a prominient and important example which reveals why such institutions are important in the history of science--they provide to those employed within them access to a remarkably wide range of material resources, professional allegiances, and ideological justifications which in turn enhance the building of new kinds of careers and disciplines.

Philip Pauly, Rutgers University
"The Course of Culture: Science, Fruit, and Profit at the Massachusetss Horticultural Society, 1829-1865"
The Massachusetts Horticultural Society was the most important plant-centered organization in the United States prior to the Civil War. It blended numerous pairs of complementary characters, which had varying degrees of viability. These included Brahmins and tradesmen, city and country, luxury and utility, leisure and experimentation, puffery and philanthropy, puritanism and partying, and planting radishes and planting corpses; not to mention a large number of roses, pears, strawberries, and grapes. This paper sketches the first decades of this ungainly but enduring institutional hybrid, with particular focus on the efforts of two of its members, C. M Hovey and E. W. Bull. The discussion will be organized around the 19th century notion of culture as the intersection between mind and the organic.

Peter Mickulas, Rutgers University
"Collecting for the Country, Displaying to the City: The New York Botanical Garden, 1900-1929"
In the 1890s, Columbia College botany professor Nathaniel Lord Britton, a skilled cultural entrepreneur and established academic, united New York City's Gilded Age wealth with the expertise of its professionalizing scientists in order to realize his vision of a world-class botanical research institution organized within - and intrinsically part of - the landscaped confines of a newly annexed city park. Britton sought to establish the Garden's scientific reputation by mounting a series of expeditions designed to catalog (and ultimately to exploit for economic purposes) the flora of a wide range of North and South American regions. In the process, he intended to create an institution that would serve the nation in an expert capacity that was twofold.
First, from the standpoint of "pure science," his staff of itinerant botanists attempted the compilation of a comprehensive taxonomic account of Western Hemisphere flora. Second, the spoils of these long-term exploratory projects were subsequently established in a set of public museums - of both living and preserved plants - within the botanical garden itself. These displays were part of a wider effort at public education and outreach mounted by the Garden's scientific staff. Thus, within the city itself, the NYBG's trained horticulturists would strive to create a public garden, museum, and outdoor pleasure ground suitable for the health, education, recreation, and civic prestige of the citizens of the newly consolidated city.


Kim Kleinman, Missouri Botanical Garden
"The Missouri Botanical Garden in the 1950s: the Short, Unhappy Directorship of Edgar Anderson"
In 1954, George Moore retired after 42 years as director of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Though in the 1910s and 1920s he had led the rejuvenation of displays and expansion of research, by the 1950s the cumulative effects of the Great Depression, World War II, and his own failing health had left the institution in serious decline, Edgar Anderson, a brilliant scientist ill-suited to administration, took over at one of the Garden's lowest points. He coped with disrepair, dwindling resources, and low morale with little success. But in fending off a proposal to change fundamentally the Garden's mission, he safeguarded its hybrid charcter of balancing research, display, and education.

Petra Gentz-Werner , Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, and F.L. Holmes, Yale University
"Justus Liebig and the Plant Physiologists"
In 1840 Justus Liebig, known until then as one of the leading practitioners of the burgeoning new field of organic chemistry, published a book entitled Chemistry in its Application to Agriculture and Physiology. This work has become best known for the controversies it aroused over agricultural practices, and particularly as the starting point for important reforms that Liebig brought about in methods of fertilization. The contents to which the second part of the title - applications to —Physiology" - refers stirred up an equally intense, if less prolonged debate. In 1842 two leading botanists, Matthias Schleiden and Hugo Mohl, harshly criticized Liebig's book for its ignorance of plant morphology and physiology, for the lack of experimental evidence in support of its broad generalizations, for its internal contradictions, and for its general attack on plant physiologists. One of us (PW), has previously described this dispute, with emphasis on the role of Alexander Humboldt, whose mediation may well have contributed to the amicable resolution, by 1845, of the animosity that had characterized the initial polemics between Liebig and Schleiden. In the present paper we explore further dimensions of this debate. In his Geschichte der Botanik, Julius von Sachs wrote in 1875 that Mohl and Schleiden were, at the beginning of the 1840's, the leading representatives of plant physiology; but that —Planzenphysiologen von Fach" did not yet exist. Anyone who interested himself in questions about the physiology of plants was regarded as a plant physiologist. Liebig's attack appeared, therefore, to threaten the validity of an emerging subfield of science that had not yet secured institutional recognition. In defending plant physiology from Liebig's criticisms, Mohl and Schleiden were at the same time upholding the integrity of what they were themselves seeking to establish. In our paper we will evaluate Sachs's interpretation of this situation, and further examine Mohl's and Schleiden's respective visions of the foundations of plant physiology.

Steven Conn,
Commentary


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