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1927 Map of the Arboretum

Director’s Lecture Series

Trunk and canopy of the pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis). Ned Friedman
Carya illinoinensis by Ned Friedman

Each winter, Director William (Ned) Friedman and the Arnold Arboretum present the Director’s Lecture Series, featuring nationally recognized experts addressing an array of topics related to Earth’s biodiversity and evolutionary history, the environment, conservation biology, and key social issues associated with current science.

Visit Past DLS Series to see descriptions of past lectures.

Header graphic for Arnold Arboretum's 2021 Director's Lecture Series, with images of the three speakers.
2021 Director’s Lecture Series

Pecan: The Intersection of Biodiversity and Human Diversity

In the 2021 Arnold Arboretum Director’s Lecture Series, three gifted writers examine the entwined histories of the pecan tree and humans. From the migrations of this quintessential American tree to its place in Indigenous culture and a searing memory of enslavement, James McWilliams, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Tiya Miles will explore the deeper meanings of human relationships with trees.

William (Ned) Friedman

The Pecan: A History of America’s Native Nut

James McWilliams, Professor of History, Texas State University and author of The Pecan

Monday, February 22, 7:00pm

In the United States, the pecan tree is native to a region stretching from central Texas to western Alabama, and from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Illinois. Today, most pecans grown for commercial consumption come from New Mexico and Georgia, places with no native pecans. What makes the extension of pecan production beyond its native habitat possible is the art and science of domestication. The pecan tree went from being primarily wild to primarily domesticated in an astonishingly quick period of time–a matter of decades. James McWilliams’ talk will explore the intricacies of this process while challenging us to think more critically about what we mean by ideas such as “natural,” “artificial,” and “authentic,” all of which are central to understanding the food we produce and consume. 

The Council of Pecans

Robin Wall Kimmerer, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

Monday, March 1, 7:00pm

Drawing upon an old family story of how the Pecans fed her Potawatomi ancestors during the desperate times of poverty in Indian Territory, Dr. Kimmerer addresses the ecological and cultural losses of the era of Removal. From a cultural perspective that understood trees as sustainers and teachers, she imagines the lessons that the mast fruiting behavior of Pecans hold for people facing contemporary perils of climate change and social upheaval.

Every Pecan Tree: Trees, Meaning, and Memory in Enslaved People’s Lives

Tiya Miles, Professor of History and Radcliffe Alumnae Professor, Harvard University and author of All That She Carried

Monday, March 8, 7:00pm

Tiya Miles will take up the pecan tree as inspiration for exploring the meaning of trees in the lives of enslaved African Americans. Using a family heirloom passed down by Black women, as well as slave narratives, oral histories, and missionary records, her presentation will consider the importance of trees as protectors of bodies and spirits, as sites of violence, as memory keepers, and as historical witnesses in the Black experience of captivity and resistance. Ultimately, time spent with these examples will underscore the centrality of the natural world to Black, and indeed, human, survival.