In this lecture, Cynthia Clampitt will present the history of corn and how it transformed the Americas before First Contact, how it traveled the world after First Contact, and its stunning impact on the creation of not only the historic Midwest but just about everything in it.
About 10,000 years ago, a weedy grass that grew in Mexico and possessed a strange trait known as a “jumping gene” transformed itself into a larger and more useful grass—the cereal grass that we would come to know as maize and then corn.
Most textbooks only mention corn in the context of rescuing a few early settlers, but it in fact sustained the colonies and then the early United States. Corn virtually created the Midwest, a region that settled faster than any other region in history. It also created the region’s cities, especially Chicago, where everything from grain elevators, the Chicago Board of Trade, and the 1893 World’s Fair to time zones and the stockyards were made possible by the golden flood flowing into the city.