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Interlaced spaces: the importance of fieldwork and presence on crop conservation histories

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Olin Moctezuma.

History is often imagined as an endeavour full of documents, of endless aisles crowded with archives and also – although less frequently – of formal interviews. In this talk I will touch on the role of fieldwork in the history of science, basing myself on my PhD research on the conservation of chili pepper in Mexico. In particular, I will highlight the importance of implementing informal and more horizontal conversations with our actors, as in many cases formal interviews are inappropriate, extractivist, and distrustful for our interviewees (especially when working in non-western settings). Thus, I will focus on the creation of spaces for the co-construction of stories, on sensitivity and bonding, and on giving actors autonomy for the narration of their own existence, as part of the process of history-making.

My project investigates the history of chili pepper conservation in Mexico 1970s-present by analysing the imaginaries and conceptualisations of different social groups (e.g. agricultural scientists, ethnobotanists, local peoples, industry) around chile and its relations to flavour, culture, heritage and senses of belonging. As part of this, I collaborate with the project ‘Cocina Colaboratorio’, created in 2016 as a joint effort between Wageningen University and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, which seeks to improve local agro-alimentary systems by forging horizontal connections between communities, biologists, artists, chefs, anthropoligists, and historians. My research is set in Santo Domingo Tomaltepec in Oaxaca, Southern Mexico, where I work with a group of women who hold extensive local culinary knowledge.

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