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This project focuses on the attempt starting in the latter half of the seventeenth century to introduce, cultivate and acclimatize an exotic set of economically profitable plants in the Russian Empire through its southern port of Astrakhan'.
Grapes vines intended for the production of wine, mulberry trees and silk worms destined for the growing Russian of silk industry, and melons of various sorts were all planted along the Volga River making up a network of gardens where Russian demand for commodities like wine, silk and fruit met the supply of plants and expertise imported from Western European, Persian, and Ottoman states.
That these commodities required not just the importation of specific plants, but also of a host of other living agents, including insects in order to produce silk and microorganisms to ferment wine, presents an entire ecological complex purposely generated across space and over time by the Russian Empire.
Moreover, cultivation required the knowledge and expertise of numerous foreigners who relied on the cooperation and support of Russian patrons and interlocutors to realize the goal of establishing gardens, vineyards and orchards.
Thus, the ‘berry-complex’ formed by the importation of grape vines, mulberry trees and melons encompassed a broad and complex network of human-non-human, human-plant, and human-human interactions that went far beyond political borders and well exceeded the fertile soils along the banks of the Volga River.
Ultimately, in beginning to sketch the contours of Russia's 'berry-complex', this project will seek to reposition the Russian Empire squarely in the center of a global system of cultivation and exchange, linking Amsterdam with Arkhangel'sk, Astrakhan' with Astarabad all while stitching together the early modern globe with Russia, surprisingly, in the center.