American Studies ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 5-17-2018


In 1891 fifty-four of New York’s wealthiest speculators came together to incorporate a new botanical garden for their city. This dissertation examines the political work of the New York Botanical Garden during its founding decades to extend the expansionist capacity of botanical science, while addressing political problems endemic in New York. The Garden served as a vehicle for transcribing landscape meaning steeped in European traditions of colonialism, into a new American context defined by plebiscitary rhetoric, territorial dispossession and instability of tenure in land, social rifts and oppressions. It tells the story of how a landed elite in New York engaged in a competitive politics of comparison to develop the Garden and its science, focusing on how founders emulated institutions of imperial botany developed through European exchange circuits. It further explores the ways the Garden depended upon the development of a public parks system in New York, which was designed to limit participation in decision-making about land. Correspondence preserved at the Botanical Garden, alongside publications issued by the Garden show how the Garden participated in an active, ongoing process of claiming land, both in an expanding New York City, and in a broad-reaching territorial vision. Finally, by examining the botanical science constructed under Garden auspices as part of a larger configuration of knowledge production about the economic potential revealed in plant life, this dissertation shows how turn-of-the century science imagined a natural realm existing prior to language, history, and empire, made comprehensible through affective, subjective, and racializing languages of landscape and territory. In so doing, it contributes to a critical literature examining the provisional coherences masquerading as permanent, static entities that animate imperial projects.




botanical garden, New York, Caribbean

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Alyosha Goldstein

Second Committee Member

Suzanne Schadl

Third Committee Member

David Correia

Fourth Committee Member

Alexander S. Lubin