Paper : Splendour and misery of a plant : cassava and its sensory qualities across the ocean in early modern times (For the Early Modern Sensory Experiences EMSE 2022 at Kellogg College, University of Oxford ) Physicians and naturalists used their senses and particularly olfactory, tactile, gustatory and visual elements to decide which use to make of a plant. Botanical and medical theories came from their sensory study of the plant. Soon after cassava was discovered, it was recognized as a useful root and crops were made to feed settlers and slaves. Naturalists, both in colonies and in Europe, described in different ways this shrub producing long edible tuberous roots. Cassava became a transcultural object of trade, and its analysis offers new perspectives to the historian using the tools of cultural and material history. In this paper, I will talk about my doctoral research in progress, in which I study plant roots as a material to understand human activities and thoughts. The case of “manioc” relies on biased sources written by colonizers or European naturalists who had only heard of it. Cassava allows us to approach sensory experiences through the lens of race and social class, as we pay a closer look at the practices around the plant.
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