Gardenworthy : Planthunting in South Asian Literature and Travel Writing investigates how colonial and postcolonial literature and travel-writing set in South Asia allegorizes the activity of colonial planthunting, botanising and gardening. My study of this literature to date reveals a complex attention to the act of representing plants, people, landscape and botanical and horticultural history and practices informed by colonial and postcolonial epistemological frameworks. Recently published historical and anthropological research on nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial planthunters in South Asia such Joseph D. Hooker (Arnold) and Frank Kingdon-Ward (Mueggler) examines memoirs and archival material related to their travels and activities and investigates their relation to the colonial project in South Asia. As Londa Schiebinger argues in Plants and Empire, “expertise in bioprospecting, plant identification, transport, and acclimatization—worked hand-in-hand with European colonial expansion” (7). Similarly, Richard Drayton’s historical study Nature’s Government considers how the idea of “improvement” served as an alibi for colonial expansion through botanical expeditions, environmental exploitation of distant lands (economic botany) and the establishment of the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew and its colonial partners (such as the Royal Botanical Garden in Calcutta). Relatively little scholarly work has been done, however, on the implications of this historical research for how we read contemporary literary, autobiographical and popular accounts of travel, trekking, planthunting and gardening culture written by postcolonial writers. My program of research examines the intertextual, discursive and epistemological links between popular gardening literature, postcolonial literature and travel writing and colonial accounts of travel and botanising, plant hunting and seed collecting primarily in the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau.
This book length manuscript will compare postcolonial and popular accounts of planthunting, travel and exploration in South Asia with colonial accounts by naturalists and botanists. Finally, the study will consider the relationship between these literary and historical texts and contemporary planthunting and popular gardening literature with a specialized interest in alpine gardening with geographical and cultural links to the South Asian context. This program of research will also examine how the desire of postcolonial writers to appropriate the genres of travel writing and planthunting, and to tackle topics informed by the history of colonialism such as environmentalism, conservationism and gardening culture, also serves as an analogy for their work as a postcolonial writers in English.