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Week 5: Medicinal Plants: Exploitation

The medical potential of many of the new botanical discovered in Europe’s colonies led to their active cultivation starting in the seventeenth century. Gardens and plantations were established across the globe to this end, producing botanicals for sale and trade. The introduction of New World materia medica to the Old World was lucrative, as the medical marketplace expanded to include new treatments. In this session, we’ll examine how imperial trade routes, networks, and commerce facilitated the spread of medicinal plants, and enabled Europeans to exploit the natural environments of their new territories.


Discussion Questions:

-What role did botanical gardens (such as Kew and the Jardin des plantes) play in facilitating the spread of new medicinal plants?

-By what processes were Europeans able to profit from the discovery of material medica found in their colonies? What role did the environment of their colonies play in maximizing the commercial potential of their botanical outputs?

-How did botanical cultivation help consolidate the 'usefulness' of Europe's colonies?


Background Reading:

Pratik Chakrabarti, Medicine and Empire, 1600-1960 (Basingstoke, 2014), ‘Ch. 1: Medicine in the Age of Commerce, 1600-1800,’ pp. 1-19.

Required Readings:

*Daniela Bleichmar, 'Atlantic Competitions: Botany in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish Empire,' in James Delbourgo and Nicolas Dew (eds.), Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (New York, 2007), pp. 225-252 [extracts]

*Lucile Brockway, ‘Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British
Royal Botanic Garden’, American Ethnologist 6, 3 (1979), 449-465 [e-journal]

*Paula De Vos, ‘The Science of Spices: Empiricism and Economic Botany in the Early 
Spanish Empire’, Journal of World History 17 (2006), 399-427.
 [e-journal]

**Londa Schiebinger, Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, 2004), ‘Ch. 2: Bioprospecting,’ pp. 73-104 [e-book]

*Larry Stewart, ‘Global Pillage: Science, Commerce, and Empire,’ in Roy Porter (ed.), The Cambridge History of Science, Vol 4: The Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 825-844. [e-book]

Further Readings:

Antonio Barrera, ‘Local Herbs, Global Medicine: Commerce, Knowledge, and Commodities in Spanish America,’ in Pamela Smith and Paula Findlen (eds.) Merchants and Marvels: Commerce, Science, and Art in Early Modern Europe (New York, 2002), pp. 163-181.

Michael Bravo, ‘Mission Gardens, Natural History and Global Expansion, 1720-1820,’ in Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan (eds.), Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World (Philadelphia, 2007), pp.49-65

Lucile H. Brockway, Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Gardens (New York, 1979)

Lucile H. Brockway, ‘Plant Science and Colonial Expansion: The Botanical Chess Game,’ in Jack Kloppenburg Jr (ed.), Seeds and Sovereignty: The Use and Control of Plant Resources (Durham, 1988), pp. 49-66.

H.J. Cook, Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine and Science in the Dutch Golden Age (New Haven, 2007)

Richard Drayton, Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the ‘Improvement’ of the World (New Haven, 2000), esp. ‘Ch.4: “Improving” the British Empire: Sir Joseph Banks and Kew, 1783-1820’, pp. 85-128 and ‘Ch. 7: The Government of Nature: Imperial Science and a Scientific Empire, 1873-1903’, pp. 221-268

Patricia Fara, Sex, Botany and Empire: the Story of Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks (New York, 2003)

John Gascoigne, Joseph Banks and the English Enlightenment: Useful Knowledge and Polite Culture (Cambridge, 1994)

John Gascoigne, Science in the Service of Empire: Joseph Banks, the British State and the Uses of Science in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Sarah Irving, Natural Science and the Origins of the British Empire (2008)

Deepak Kumar, ‘The Evolution of Colonial Science in India: Natural History and the East India Company’, in John M. MacKenzie (ed.) Imperialism and the Natural World (Manchester, 1990), pp.51-66

David Mackay, In the Wake of Cook: Exploration, Science and Empire, 1780–1801 (London, 1985)

Sujit Sivasundaram, ‘Natural History Spiritualized: Civilizing Islanders, Cultivating Breadfruit, and Collecting Souls,’ History of Science 39 (2001), 417-443 [e-journal]

Pamela H. Smith and Paula Findlen (eds.) Merchants and Marvels: Commerce, Science and Art in Early Modern Europe (New York, 2002)

Emma Spary, ‘Of Nutmegs and Botanists: The Colonial Cultivation of Botanical Identity,’ in Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan (eds.), Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World (Philadelphia, 2007), pp.187-203

Timothy Walker, ‘Acquisition and Circulation of Medical Knowledge Within the Early Modern Portuguese Colonies,’ in Daniela Bleichmar, Paula De Vos, Kirsten Huffine and Kevin Sheehan (eds.) Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800 (Stanford, 2009), pp. 247-270.