Rachel Steely is a scholar of the history of capitalism and commodities, particularly at intersections of environmental history and histories of technology, food systems, and public health.
Her dissertation, "Invisible Giant: The Global Rise of Soy in the Twentieth Century," explores the forces propelling the rapid global expansion of soybean frontiers during the twentieth century. Prior to the twentieth century, the soybean was largely unknown beyond East Asia. Since that time, this inconspicuous legume has catapulted from obscurity to become one of the most widely grown crops in the world and a ubiquitous presence in modern life. This research maps the emergence and diffusion of soy frontiers around the world and chronicles the dramatic growth of the global soybean industry. This project not only excavates the origin story of one of the most influential commodities of our time – it also highlights soy as an important geostrategic tool of states, reveals rural regions as dynamic, globally-enmeshed spaces, and demonstrates the enduring importance of agriculture and the countryside in the story of capitalist development throughout the last century.
Rachel received her PhD in the Department of History at Harvard University in May 2022. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Fellowships & Writing Center at Harvard University.