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Yeonhaun Kang

Ph.D. Candidate, English
2014-2015 Tedder Family Doctoral Fellowship

Yeonhaun Kang, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English at the University of Florida, used her Tedder Doctoral Fellowship to travel to the National Museum of American History and the National Agricultural Library in Washington, D.C. Kang’s research highlights how the garden has played a crucial role in shaping national identity and environmental ownership in the U.S. The garden has traditionally been represented as space of tranquility, as well as a bridge between the natural world and the human-built environment. However, Kang argues that this representation of the garden is based on a white man’s perspective and that contemporary U.S. multiethnic women’s garden literature helps us expand our understanding of nature beyond white man’s imagination by bringing diverse ethnic groups (Native Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans) into the tradition of American nature writing.

The history of the garden in America began with the belief that the New World would be a new Garden of Eden for white settlers. The fertility and prosperity of the land embodied the aspirations of transplanted Europeans who wanted to make this New World their own and cultivate their identity as Americans. Cultivated land, like cultivated identity, was tamed, distinct, and controlled; conquering the American Wilderness would produce the idea of Manifest Destiny. But this narrative of cultivation, strongly espoused by Thomas Jefferson’s agrarianism, justified internal colonialism that never rejected slavery or the removal of Native Americans from the American heartland. The image of the garden, which embodied the design of the nation, is inextricably connected to the colonization of indigenous people and people of color in the U.S. Thus the garden, once perceived as a symbol of the American pastoral ideal, turns out to be a contested space in which wars over nature continuously cross lines of race, gender, class, ethnicity, and national identity. This process of racial exclusion is well examined in the work of Leslie Marmon Silko (Gardens in the Dunes) and Toni Morrison (Paradise). Kang’s analysis of these novels suggests that multiethnic group’s dislocation from the land was not only influenced by mainstream American society’s racial exclusion act, but was also closely related to the emergence of modern science and technology in agriculture and food production. The ironic theme that cultivation produces alienation from nature is further examined in the novels of Karen Tei Yamashita (Tropic of Orange) and Ruth L. Ozeki (All Over Creation) whose work extends the conception of the American garden into the economic network of globalization. Yet, Kang suggests that the reinvention of the American garden by multiethnic women writers helps us cultivate a global environmental consciousness that transcends national boundaries while empowering underrepresented groups to directly speak to their environmental rights.

The power of literature makes possible a new narrative that re-envisions the past, the present, and the future. With the support of the Tedder Family Doctoral Fellowship, Kang was able to conduct archival research that furthers her dissertation by adding cultural materials and historical documents to her literary analysis. The old image of the garden representing the American pastoral ideal must give way to a new narrative that highlights the curious history of cultivation, production and its exclusionary force. The inclusion of diverse and talented female voices offers a new narrative of the American garden, one that is more conscientious to U.S. citizenship and environmental stewardship in the age of globalization.