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A Global History of Monoculture

Dr Frank Uekötter , Reader in Environmental Humanities in the Department of History, has received a prestigious Advanced Grant from the European Research Council of £1.74M (€2M) for his project, The Making of Monoculture: A Global History.

Using a global histories approach to examine the persistence and growth of crop monocultures, the project aims to make history relevant in a 21st-century world where organic production will face unprecedented challenges and where food security is an increasingly prescient issue.

Over five years, the project will harness historical research in exploring a field which has traditionally been dominated by agriculture and activism. Examining global history will demonstrate the similarities between otherwise different monocultures (the practice of growing a single type of crop, plant, or livestock at a time), identifying common patterns in the trajectories of monocultures from across the world, and offering a new interpretation of why monocultures are so resilient and pervasive despite plenty of evidence for their socioeconomic, political and ecological problems.

Dr Frank Uekötter said: “I am thrilled to receive this grant from the European Research Council. Monocultures are one of the great projects of industrial modernity. From the corn fields of Iowa to date palms in the Sahara, from banana plantations in the Americas to eucalyptus trees in India – wherever we look, we find large production regimes that focus on a single commodity. They supply the lion’s share of the world’s food and create a plethora of economic, social, political and environmental problems. Yet there is no biological theory of monoculture – and plenty of evidence for the benefits of biological diversity.”

Working closely with experts from the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) and the agricultural sciences the project will deliver a total of five monographs, and will challenge existing boundaries between historical subdisciplines and explore the common ground between agricultural history, forest history, environmental history, economic history, and the history of science and technology.
https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/frankuekotter

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