Mac Test’s new book, “Sacred Seeds: New World Plants in Early Modern English Literature” recently was published by University of Nebraska Press.
More than 500 years after the fact, present-day writers still use hyperbolic adjectives to describe the “discovery” of the Americas. Columbus’s crossing of the Atlantic – and the age of exploration that ensued – dramatically changed the landscape of the early modern world. The societies, economies, cultures, arts and burgeoning sciences of Europe quickly were transformed by the ongoing encounter with the New World.
The meeting of the New and Old Worlds, however, was more than a meeting of disparate civilizations. It was also a confluence of exciting and often surprising associations that continually created new interfaces between materials and knowledge. The Western and Eastern hemispheres, brought together by sailing ships for the first time on a large scale, helped created the global landscape we take for granted today. Central to this formative moment in history were New World plants. The agriculture of indigenous peoples mythically and materially shaped English society and, subsequently, its literature in new and startling ways.
In “Sacred Seeds,” Test examines New World plants – tobacco, amaranth, guaiacum and the prickly pear cactus – and their associated native myths as they moved across the Atlantic and into English Literature. He reinstates the contributions of indigenous peoples to European society, charting an alternative cultural history that explores the associations and assemblages of transatlantic multiplicity rather than Eurocentric homogeny.