This course introduces students to the social scientific study of human-environment interactions through the history and culture of a single agricultural crop: rice. The cultivation of rice dates back almost 10,000 years in Asia, and forms the core of an independent origin of civilization, distinct from other Eurasian sites that were all based around wheat/barley and millet. Some scholars hypothesize that the cultivation of rice also supports a distinctive Asian form of society, and mode of historical or technological development, that differs from standard frameworks of ‘Western’ modernization. Today rice is one of the most intensively researched crops, as both a model organism for advanced research in genomics and an important object of genetic modification experiments. We will explore how the cultivation of rice raises exciting and provocative questions about the relationships among society, technology and environment. The course asks whether Asia’s history and culture of rice can provide an alternative figure of technological development and design, and perhaps a model for a sustainable relationship between humans and their natural environments.

Lyle Fearnley