Zea Mays / Corn as Civilization, Commodity, Consumerism and Control

Alberto de Salvatierra thesis project

Alberto de Salvatierra (MDes ’17)

Maize (zea mays)—commonly known as corn—often evokes nostalgic visions of pastoral landscapes. It is a de facto symbol for farms and harvests, and it is widely appreciated as a quintessentially American staple. However, corn’s historical genealogy is much more insidious and furtively subversive than most people recognize. While corn might have had its genesis as a versatile crop, the last few centuries reveal a more influential agent. It was a powerful civilization maker—both contributing to Maya and Aztec ascendancy in Mesoamerica and the English colonies in America. It was a commodity that facilitated the slave trade and the engine behind modern consumerism. And today, corn is the primary vehicle by which a vast agrochemical-industrial complex dominates American life. Therefore, this project seeks to reframe corn and highlight its true role in contemporary society.