Gregg Mitman: Forgotten Paths of Empire

Thursday 7 May, 2015
6.00 - 7.30PM

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Gregg Mitman will show show clips from his environmental documentaries and share his insights into the art of environmental filmmaking.

Gregg Mitman: ‘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 shall highlight the circulation of knowledge, commodities, and microbes that brought ecological and evolutionary understandings of disease into being.  And I will also suggest how we might take the imperial debris of a scientific expedition produced in the service of capital and make something new of its ruins.’


Gregg Mitman currently holds the Vilas Research and William Coleman Professorship in History of Science, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he also holds a faculty appointment in the Department of History.  He is the founding director of the Center for Culture, History, and Environment in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

Trained in ecology, the history of science and medicine, and environmental history, Mitman brings to his scholarship and teaching an interest in understanding the ways in which political economy, cultural values and beliefs, and scientific knowledge intersect in shaping the interactions between people and environments over time.  His research reaches across the fields of environmental history, the history of science and medicine, American history, and visual culture, and is informed by a commitment and hope to build a more equitable and just environment.  The author of three books, each of which have won major awards, three edited volumes, and 30 articles, he is the recipient of more than $4 million in external research and training grants, as well as distinguished research fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, among others.  He has published widely across different disciplines and has also served on the editorial boards of leading journals in the history of science, environmental history, environmental humanities, and cultural geography.