January 2021

Plant Cultures: Chemical Perspectives on Slavery and the Land. 

Listed in: Architectural Studies, as ARCH-120  |  Art and the History of Art, as ARHA-120  |  Chemistry, as CHEM-120

Moodle site: Course


Dwight A. Carey (Section 01J)
Alberto M. Lopez (Section 01J)


(Offered as ARHA 120, CHEM 120 and ARCH 120)  This course introduces students to the social and chemical characteristics of the buildings and landscapes that slaves constructed in North Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, West Africa, and the Indian Ocean from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. In looking at construction histories from Suriname to Bengal, we will engage the knowledge of plants that enslaved builders wielded to raise structures made of wood, straw, coral, earth, and fibers. Recognizing that construction involves both the assemblage of dwellings and the mastery of resources, we will also approach a number of topics, including but not limited to: the usage of aloe on the part of enslaved loggers in Mauritius to heal the wounds that their hatchets inflicted upon them; the role of forced labor in the establishment of the wine industry and its vineyards in French colonial Algeria; the usage of marijuana as a medicinal agent among enslaved construction laborers from West Africa to the Caribbean; garden construction, meal preparation, and the poisoning of slave owners in Haiti; and contemporary efforts to preserve the landscapes of enslaved plant knowledge in the age of climate change. Each week, students will participate in activities designed to cultivate a more nuanced understanding of the chemical properties of the plant specimens addressed. Lectures and discussions will attempt to bridge the gap between chemistry and architectural studies by combining analyses of humanities readings with investigations of plant-based natural products. The goal will be to foster an understanding of both enslaved plant knowledge and the plants themselves that have defined construction labor under slavery. 

No prerequisites. No prior knowledge of chemistry or architectural history is required for this class.  Class will meet synchronously. 

January Term, 2021:  Professors Alberto Lopez and Dwight Carey. 


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in January 2021