In this episode of High Theory, Neil Safier talks with us about the Plantationocene, a geological epoch that traces the effects of climate change to the historical systems of human and nonhuman environmental exploitation known as plantation agriculture. It is another name for the world we currently inhabit.
In the episode, Neil describes how Donna Harraway and Anna Tsing invented the term Plantationocene in response to another recent term Anthropocene. Sources to check out include Donna Haraway’s essay, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationcene, Chthulucene: Making Kin” Environmental Humanities 6 no. 1 (2015): 159-165. doi: 10.1215/22011919-3615934, and Paul Crutzen, “The ‘Anthropocene’” Earth Systems Science in the Anthropocene ed. Eckhart Ehlers and Thomas Krafft (Springer, 2006) pp. 13-18. He references B.F. Skinner’s novel Walden Two (MacMillan, 1962) at the end of our conversation.
Neil Safier is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Brown University where he currently serves as Director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies of the Watson Institute for International Affairs. He studies the history of science, agriculture, and other forms of knowledge-making in the late-eighteenth-century Atlantic world, focusing on the plantation cultures of the Caribbean and Brazil. He was recently the director of the John Carter Brown Library, at Brown University, and many years ago, when he was more optimistic about the current global epoch, he managed grants for the Sierra Club Foundation in San Francisco, California. He is the author of Measuring the New World: Enlightenment Science and South America (U Chicago, 2008) and is cooking up two new projects, on the historical connections between natural science and plantation agriculture in the Amazon River basin and the global history of collecting.
The image for this week comes from Neil’s research on the history of plantation agriculture. This drawing of a plantation from Hispaniola (Saint-Domingue) was reproduced in José Mariano da Conceição Velozo’s Fazendeiro do Brazil Tome III Part II (Lisbon, 1799), in the volume dedicated to coffee production.