Patrick Bottiger, Associate Professor of History, has been awarded two fellowships to support a new book project, The Three Sisters Agricultural Revolution, that will span the 2021-2022 academic year and into the fall of 2022.
Professor Bottiger was awarded a full 9-month fellowship to conduct research at the Newberry collection in Chicago. The independent library is a portal to more than six centuries of human history in Western Europe and the Americas. This fellowship is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
Professor Bottiger was also awarded a long-term Massachusetts Historical Society-National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for the academic year 2021-2022.
Corn, Beans, and Squash: The Three Sisters Agricultural Revolution and the Remaking of North America, 300 CE-1850 CE
Corn is the single largest crop on Earth in terms of the volume of grain produced and acreage farmed. Yet few people recognize just how central this plant has been to human history outside of the white pioneer of the nineteenth century or the influence of multinational agriculture companies. Fewer people know that corn was birthed from a polycrop planting culture of corn, beans, and squash pioneered by Indigenous women. Before Cargill’s rise as the largest privately owned corporation in the world or the boom of Iowa’s corn belt, Indigenous women spread seeds and knowledge about the Three Sisters (maize, beans, and squash) across the Americas in what can only be called an agricultural revolution. It was the seeds and knowledge they spread that gave birth to the urban center at Cahokia, the extensive Mandan and Hidatsa trade network, and the Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and Powhatan confederacies. Without the plants, agricultural systems, and agricultural science that Indigenous peoples pioneered, European colonization of North America would have taken an entirely different course.
The Three Sisters Agricultural Revolution argues that from 300 CE to 1800 CE, Indigenous North Americans initiated one of the greatest material and cosmological transformations of human society. Indigenous peoples quickly moved away from their more nomadic lifestyles by mastering hydrology to manage crop cycles, engineering building systems to house their growing populations and food stores, and developing innovative political confederacies to harness the transformative and spiritual power of the Three Sisters. Though an examination of traditional ecological knowledge – what scholar of Indigenous peoples and language, Gregory Cajete, calls the “original instructions for how to care for and relate to the land” – this project argues that the cultivation and spread of the Three Sisters radically remade Indigenous North America into a world bound by a set of relationships and reciprocal responsibilities between humans and plants. These plants were far more than commodities. They were kin or as noted plant ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer says, “sovereign persons.” As Indigenous women spread the Three Sisters across the continent, these plants and the resulting corn cosmologies explained human ancestry and evolution.