Papers presented by Marina Moskowitz since 2019

2023 Detroit, MI, United States

"Broadcasting Seeds on the American Landscape"

Marina Moskowitz, University of Wisconsin, Madison


“Having embarked on a large scale in the seeds-man's business (so extensively and broadcast, indeed, that at length my seeds were distributed through all the Eastern and Northern States and even fell into the far soil of Missouri and the Carolinas), the demand for paper at my place became so great, that the expenditure soon amounted to a most important item in the general account.” Herman Melville, “The Tartarus of Maids,” 1855 When Melville’s narrator describes the scale of his commercial communications, he deploys the multiple meanings of “broadcast” that rhetorically underpin the history of seed selling. The word, of course, has its origins in the scattering of seed. Melville’s link between this activity and papermaking was no accident. If seeds were objects of commodification, print was the mechanism for this process. Though of course all nineteenth-century business benefited from advances in print technology, this paper argues that there was a special relationship between the rise of American horticulture and the proliferation of print and visual culture. Trained as printers, several early seed sellers published their own catalogues, gardening manuals, and illustrated envelopes, while the larger seed companies, including Burpee and Vick, operated on-site printing works to produce marketing materials. Drawing on such ephemera, this paper will explore how the distribution of knowledge undergirded the distribution of seeds, and specifically how communication technologies afforded a glimpse of the physical development that seeds would bring to the American landscape. By providing consumers enough horticultural knowledge that they might appreciate the botanical work of improvement promised by the myriad varieties of plants for sale, the printed page offered seed men an instrument for cultivating an assigned exchange value, or price, that transformed their wares into profitable commodities.


printing and publishing

2020 Charlotte, North Carolina


Marina Moskowitz, University of Wisconsin-Madison


This proposal is for a roundtable; while each participant will introduce their own perspective on the topic, we will not give papers. Please see panel description for further details.