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)

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. 

Pineapple teapot




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

Day 1: Sainsbury Laboratory Auditorium

08.45 – 09.15


09.15 – 09.30

Welcome and opening 

Session 1: The Global Pineapple

Chair: Lauren Gardiner (Curator, Cambridge University Herbarium)

09.30 – 09.50

Rebecca Earle (School of Comparative American Studies, Warwick)

‘From the Caribs to Carmen Miranda’

09.50 – 10.10

Peter Crane (President, Oak Spring Garden Foundation, USA; former Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) [recorded video presentation]

‘Maria Sibylla Merian, Metamorphosis and the Pineapple’

10.10 – 10.30

Melissa Caldwell (Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz, and editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture)

‘The Pineapple Between Tropical Imaginaries and American Mythologies’

10.30 – 11.00


11.00 – 11.30


Session 2: The Cultivated Pineapple 

Chair: Sujit Sivasundaram (History, Cambridge)

11.30 – 11.50

Howard Griffiths (Professor of Plant Ecology, Plant Sciences, and Co-Chair of Cambridge Global Food Security IRC, Cambridge) 

'Domestication of Wild Pine: How the Pineapple Works the Night Shift'

11.50 – 12.10

Lavinia Maddaluno (History, Warburg/I Tatti)

'Pineapples, Roman Aristocracy and the Pope in Enlightenment Rome'

12.10 – 12.30

Johanna Lausen-Higgins (Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh) 

'Pineapple mania: How a desire for the exotic led to innovations for growing tropical plants'

12.30 – 13.00


13.00 – 14.00


14.00 – 15.30

Visit to the University Herbarium with Lauren Gardiner (Curator, CU Herbarium) and/or food-related tour of the Botanic Garden with Alex Summers (Glasshouse Supervisor, CU Botanic Garden)

Session 3: The Edible Pineapple

Chair: Deborah Krohn (Associate Professor, Bard Graduate Center, New York) 

16.00 – 16.20

Ivan Day (independent food historian)

‘As if Rosewater, Wine and Sugar was Mixed Together’: The Pineapple in the European Kitchen

16.20 – 16.40

Victoria Avery (Applied Arts, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

'The Cantabrigian Pineapple: Cultivating and Consuming Pineapples in Cambridge'

16.40 – 17.00

Richard A. Hawkins (History, Wolverhampton)

'Pineapple Processing and Canning from the Napoleonic Wars to the Twenty-First Century'

17.00 – 17.30


Day 2: Cavonius Centre, Gonville & Caius

Session 4: The Iconic Pineapple

Chair: Dániel Margócsy (History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge)

09.30 – 09.50

Julie Hochstrasser (School of Art and Art History, University of Iowa)

'The Pineapple in Dutch Golden Age Paintings'

09.50 – 10.10

Kathryn Jones (Senior Curator of Decorative Arts at the Royal Collection) 

'The Pineapple in Architecture and the Decorative Arts'

10.10 – 10.30

Melissa Calaresu (History, Cambridge) 

'Pineapples and Pomegranates: Pineapples Representing and Eating Exotic Fruit in Europe, 1500–1800'

10.30 – 11.00


11.00 – 11.30


Session 5: The Replicated Pineapple

Chair: Melissa Calaresu (History, Cambridge)

11.30 – 11.50

Emma Spary (History, Cambridge)

'Princely Fruit: The Pineapple in Print in Old Regime France'

11.50 – 12.10

Kasia Boddy (English, Cambridge)

The Poetic Pineapple: Some Literary and Filmic Uses of the Fruit

12.10 – 12.30

Jonathan Swinton (author of Alan Turing's Manchester (2019))

'The Beauty Myth: Why Pineapples Don't Need Protractors'

12.30 – 13.00


13.00 – 14.00


Session 6: The Political Pineapple

Chair: Melissa L. Caldwell (Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz, and editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture)

14.00 – 14.20

Henry Knight Lozano (Exeter)

'A Settler Colonial Experiment: The Pineapple and American Hawai‘i'

14.20 – 14.40

Paul Lievens (Communications Officer, Make Fruit Fair, Norwich)

'The Social and Environmental Impact of Pineapple Production in Costa Rica'

14.40 – 15.00

Inanna Hamati-Ataya (Director, Centre for Global Knowledge Studies, CRASSH)

'The Traveling Pineapple: A Political History'

15.00 – 15.30


15.30 – 16.00


16.00 – 16.30

Chairs’ Concluding Round Table 

Chair: Dr Lauren Gardiner (University Herbarium, Cambridge)


Concluding Discussion