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Spinning their way into history: Silkworms, mulberries and manufacturing landscapes in China

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This paper uses the history of silk manufacturing in China as a case study of the impact of biological processes on manufacturing landscapes. The thesis is that the Chinese silk industry succeeded because people inserted themselves as partners in the coevolution of silkworms and mulberry trees. Becoming a coevolutionary partner enabled people to make silkworms and mulberries into more efficient biotechnologies. Silkworms and mulberry trees evolved traits that benefited themselves. People capitalised on those traits, and intensified their expression, through domestic relationships. People pushed evolution of silkworms and mulberries in new directions to maximise their economic value. Coevolution of people, silkworms, and mulberries enabled people to create complex societies marked by gender divisions and social hierarchies.
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Keywords: Bombyx mori; China; biotechnology; coevolution; mulberry; silk

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2017

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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