On This Day: The Potato-Porting Polymath

Renaissance Man Thomas Harriot was noted for many things - devising the theory of refraction, creating mathematical symbols including ‘greater than’ and ‘lesser than’, and being the first person to draw the Moon through a telescope. But the contribution for which he’s most remembered is bringing back the potato to Britain - an event commonly credited to 3rd December, 1586.


On first spotting the vegetable on Roanoke Island, he wrote: ‘They are a kind of roots of round form, some of the bigness of walnuts, some far greater, which are found in moist & marish grounds growing many together one by another in ropes, or as though they were fastened with a string. Being boiled or sodden they are very good meate.’


In this episode, Arion, Olly and Rebecca ask what a ‘versifier’ is; come up with a new name for Accountancy; and discover the bizarre means by which Antoine-Augustin Parmentier popularised spuds in France…


Further Reading:

• ‘The history of the potato: The humble vegetable that changed the world’ (Sky HISTORY): https://www.history.co.uk/articles/the-history-of-the-potato-the-humble-vegetable-that-changed-the-world

• ‘Thomas Harriot (1560 - 1621) - Biography’ (MacTutor History of Mathematics, St Andrews University): https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Harriot/

• ‘History through the eyes of the potato’ (Leo Bear-McGuinness, TEDx 2015): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xROmDsULcLE


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The Retrospectors are Olly Mann, Rebecca Messina & Arion McNicoll, with Matt Hill.

Theme Music: Pass The Peas. Announcer: Bob Ravelli. Graphic Design: Terry Saunders. Edit Producer: Emma Corsham.

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