Doctoral student Sheila Scoville is a 2022 fellow of the Plant Humanities Summer Program at Dumbarton Oaks. Now in its fourth year, this initiative is a collaboration of the Dumbarton Oaks Plant Humanities Initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with Oak Spring Garden Foundation and the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University. The aims of this endeavor are to support the emerging field of Plant Humanities and facilitate skill-building for early-career humanists through the interdisciplinary study of plants.
In this seven-week program, Sheila joined a cohort of eight other graduate students to learn about the cultural histories of plants through seminars and guest lectures. For most of July, the program was held in-person in Washington, DC, with site visits to Oak Spring in Virginia and the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. The cohort conducted research in online repositories and in rare book collections, and received digital training to use tools for textual, visual, spatial, and network analyses, such as text mining, image comparison and annotation, mapping overlays, and network visualizations. Working in teams, the students created interactive narratives for the Plant Humanities Lab, a digital space that Dumbarton Oaks developed with JSTOR Labs. Sheila’s team developed a narrative on eggplant which will be peer-reviewed and published next year.
This past spring, Sheila also traveled to Chicago to attend a research methods workshop for early-career graduate students at the Newberry Library. Held on Friday, April 22, 2022, the workshop, “New Spain at the Newberry Library: Demystifying Colonial Documents from the Ayer Collection,” was led by Claudia Brittenham of the University of Chicago and Seonaid Valiant of Arizona State University. Participants received an introduction to the Edward E. Ayer Collection, which includes 4,000 rare colonial documents from New Spain. The workshop used the Ayer Collection and its history to discuss the historical migration of books in the global market and the various categories of materials produced by the Indigenous and Europeans during the colonial period, including sermons and dictionaries in Mesoamerican languages and pictorial court documents. The workshop also allowed the graduate students to consult rare documents in the collection including the Popol Vuh, a creation account of the Quiché Maya, and the 1524 Cortés map of Tenochtitlan.