COOL CLASSES: “Economic Botany”

COOL CLASSES: “Economic Botany”

Class name: Economic Botany
Taught by: Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Jonathan Wilson

Here’s what Wilson has to say about his course:
“Economic Botany” is a course designed to teach the fundamentals of plant biology, physiology, development, and evolution through the lens of agriculturally important plants: everything humans eat, grow, wear, and use. (Although this class is occasionally mistaken for a course that deals with the fundamentals of economics,  “economic botany” is a technical term for the study and analysis of the botany, development, cultivation, and physiology of economically important plants.)

We use case studies of key plants to illustrate these concepts, including: the origins of citrus fruits through domestication and hybridization; the development of a global monoculture by “cloning” (cutting and planting suckers) of the Cavendish banana, leaving it vulnerable to a global fungal pathogen, Panama disease Tropical Race 4; to how grapevine rootstocks from Texas saved the European wine industry in the late 19th and early 20th century. We read a variety of texts in this class, from plant genome papers to anthropology papers to Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire.

Two previous iterations of the class (2017 and 2018) went on a spring break field study to Trinidad and Tobago. This spring, we’ll be running another Trinidad and Tobago Field Study, and this fall’s class is part of the Borderlands 360 at Bryn Mawr, where students will travel to Yunnan Province in southern China for fall break.

I created this course to teach students how humanity, plants, and the environment all affect one another, and to enable students to have a firmer grasp of the scientific and social history embedded in the plants around them and on their plate. By combining this course with a non-majors class, “Plants and People,” a diversity of views and perspectives are brought to the class for lively discussions.


See what other courses the Bi-College Department of Environmental Studies is offering this semester.

Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience. 

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