Gregg Mitman: "Forgotten Paths of Empire: History, Memory, and the Making of Firestone Plantations Company in Liberia"
Welcome to a lecture by Gregg Mitman, Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History of Science, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The talk and discussion will be followed by the movie “The Land Beneath Our Feet” (2016, 60 min), directed by Sarita Siegel and Gregg Mitman.
After the seminar, coffee and snacks are served in our lunch room. The event is open to all, no registration required.
In 1926, Richard Pearson Strong, head of Harvard’s Department of Tropical Medicine, led an eight-member scientific team on a four-month long biological and medical survey of the interior region of Liberia. The expedition was thoroughly entangled in the material relationships – transportation infrastructure, labor regimes, and commodity production – being erected by the Firestone Plantations Company in Liberia to secure a viable rubber supply for the United States. While Firestone’s continued presence in Liberia is one lasting legacy of the expedition, so too is the motion picture record the expedition left behind.
This talk embarks on a journey that follows the traces of an expedition and a film never made to make visible the forgotten paths of empire that led to widespread economic, environmental, and cultural change in the West African republic of Liberia. In doing so, I will highlight the circulation of knowledge, commodities, and microbes that brought ecological and evolutionary understandings of disease into being. And I will also explore how we might take the imperial debris of a scientific expedition produced in the service of capital and make something new of its ruins.
The Land Beneath Our Feet (2016, 60 min).
Directed by Sarita Siegel and Gregg Mitman
The Land Beneath Our Feet weaves together rare archival footage from a 1926 Harvard expedition to Liberia with the journey of a young Liberian man, uprooted by war, seeking to understand how the past has shaped land conflicts in his country today. This film is an explosive reminder of how large-scale land grabs are transforming livelihoods across the planet.
Gregg Mitman is the Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History of Science, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is an award-winning author, filmmaker, and teacher, whose interests span the history of science, medicine, and the environment in the United States and the world, and reflect a commitment to environmental and social justice.
His recent works include Documenting the World: Film, Photography, and the Scientific Record (University of Chicago Press, 2016), Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape our Lives and Landscapes (Yale University Press, 2007), and Reel Nature: America’s Romance with Wildlife on Film, rev. ed. (University of Washington Press, 2009). Mitman is the founding director of the Nelson Institute’s Center for Culture, History and Environment, and is also past president of the American Society for Environmental History.
During the last decade, Mitman has increasingly focused on public humanities projects. Mitman’s current work is a multimedia project—a film, book, and public history website—exploring the history and legacy of the Firestone Plantations Company in Liberia. He recently co-produced and co-directed with Sarita Siegel, In the Shadow of Ebola, an intimate portrait of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, and The Land Beneath Our Feet, a documentary on history, memory, and land rights in Liberia.
Seminar contact: Keir James Cecil Martin