Congratulations to Dr. Matthew Plishka on receiving a three-year Collaborative Humanities Postdoctoral Fellowship at Vanderbilt University. The WHC took some time to interview Dr. Plishka about his dissertation, how world history shaped his teaching and scholarship, and his new postdoctoral position.
What is your dissertation about?
My dissertation, “Cycles of Crisis and Adaptation: A Multispecies Political Ecology of Late-Colonial Jamaica, 1870-1960,” explores the transformation of Jamaica’s political ecology in the late-colonial period. I analyze how multispecies assemblages of people, plants, and microbes affected and were affected by these changes. I focus on the lives of Afro-Jamaican small-scale farmers, colonial officials attempting to implement a vision in line with a technocratic ethos of “high imperialism,” plants such as bananas and sugar, and pathogens that infected these plants and threatened the livelihoods of those involved in their cultivation. It is a story of rural agriculture, of commodity extraction, the impacts of disease, and Imperialism all within the specific historical context of local, circum-Caribbean, and global events and processes.
How has World History shaped your research and teaching?
Both my teaching and research have been shaped by the training in World History I received at Pitt. I have particularly drawn from World History’s emphasis on connections. While at Pitt I received the Teaching World History Credential from the WHC and taught World Environmental History twice. In these classes, and in my other courses I teach, one of my main goals is to have students see historical connections across time and space based on a variety of themes and topics. Through this, students are able to connect specific case studies to larger global transformations. I try to do the same thing in my research on plant disease and small-scale farming in colonial Jamaica. In my dissertation I try to highlight as many of the global forces, from wars and markets to microbial movement and weather currents, that resulted in on-the-ground transformations in Jamaica.
What will you be doing in your new postdoctoral position?
As a Collaborative Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow my main focus will be developing and teaching interdisciplinary courses in the environmental humanities. I am excited to continue exploring the world historical connections of my research while at Vanderbilt.