14 Feb. 2020 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Raymond Hyser (UT)

“’Brought Into Tilth by Axe and Fire’: Planters, Botanical Gardens, and the Ecological Transformation of British Ceylon”

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, British planters in colonial Ceylon accomplished the most extensive conversion of tropical rainforest into plantation agriculture seen anywhere in the British Empire. In the closing decades of the nineteenth century, Ceylon’s plantation-centered economy experienced the utter collapse of its coffee industry and an almost immediate, rapid transition to tea plantation agriculture. Exploring the ecological transformation of Ceylon’s highlands wrought by British agricultural interests, this talk highlights how the relationship between the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens and the British planting community played a decisive role in the collapse of coffee agriculture and the dramatic rise of Ceylon tea.


Raymond Hyser is a graduate student in the History Department at the University of Texas at Austin. He received his MA in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and his BA in History and Art History from the University of Virginia. His current research traces agricultural knowledge networks between the West Indies and South Asia within the British Empire.