Power, Promise, Politics: The Pineapple from Columbus to Del Monte

20 February 2020 - 21 February 2020

The Sainsbury Laboratory Auditorium (Cambridge University Botanic Garden); The Bateman Auditorium (Gonville and Caius College)

Further details about this conference will be made available in the near future. 

Please email conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk if you would like to be kept informed about the event, or have any other questions. 



Victoria Avery (University of Cambridge)

Melissa Calaresu (University of Cambridge)

Lauren M. Gardiner (University of Cambridge)



The pineapple is an emblem of power, promise and politics and continues to attract interest from plant scientists, historians, and artists. Its ‘discovery’ by European colonisers in the late fifteenth century and its trajectory around the world, from an object of luxury and horticultural innovation in the early modern period to an everyday food in a can and a logo of fair-trade movements today, is a story through which we can understand modern globalisation. 

This interdisciplinary conference brings together academics from the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences as well as museum professionals and artist-practitioners to investigate the understudied tensions between the representational power of the pineapple and the political contexts of its production around the globe, thereby making connections between the global and local which are at the heart of contemporary debates about the nature and origins of the food that we eat. 

Food will be at the centre of an ambitious ground-breaking exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, ‘Feast & Fast: The art of food in Europe, 1500-1800’ (26 November 2019 to 19 April 2020). The exhibition, curated by Victoria Avery and Melissa Calaresu, will explore some of these contemporary concerns, such as global food security, sustainability, seasonality, food supply chains, and climate change, through the imaginative display and critical interpretation of objects, images and texts from the early modern period, linking the past with our present. 

This conference will build on some of the exhibition themes but expand them beyond its early modern and Eurocentric framework, by engaging with new historical writing on global history, which emphasizes the connected histories of commodities which do not always place Europe at its centre. The easy propagation of the pineapple, and its cultivation across the globe, from Brazil to Africa, China, and Europe, is particularly conducive to this kind of approach. It will also build on new approaches in the history of material culture, in particular, on the agency of matter and on making and knowing. The conference will also draw on the horticultural and botanical expertise at the University of Cambridge, with the visit to the glasshouses at the Botanic Garden and the study of specimens at the Herbarium, and incorporate this into our discussions. 




Supported by the Cambridge University Herbarium, the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), and the Fitzwilliam Museum.