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Week 4: Medicinal Plants: Exploration

Expansion into new territories offered ample opportunity for European natural historians to encounter new species of flora and fauna. These discoveries contributed to the sense of wonder that such unfamiliar environments inspired, and prompted naturalists to reconsider the limits of creation. Several plants from the new colonies were integrated into the existing material medica (pharmaceuticals), with some—such as quinine—proving particularly useful. In this session we’ll examine how botanical exploration transformed European medicine from the Renaissance onwards.


Discussion Questions:

-How did indigenous knowledge and practice shape European notions of the medicinal plants discovered in the New World?

-Did the discovery of new species affect existing approaches to the study of natural history?

-To what extent was European medicine changed by the introduction of new medicinal plants from the colonies?


Background Reading:

Pratik Chakrabarti, Medicine and Empire, 1600-1960 (Basingstoke, 2014), ‘Ch. 2: Plants, Medicine and Empire,’ pp. 20-39


Required Readings:

**Harold J. Cook, ‘Physicians and Natural History,’ in Nick Jardine et al (eds), Cultures of Natural History (1996), pp. 91-105. [extracts]

*Victoria Dickenson, ‘Cartier, Champlain, and the Fruits of the New World: Botanical Exchange in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Scientia Canadensis 31 (2008), 27-47 [e-journal here]

**Teresa Huguet-Termes, 'New World Materia Medica in Spanish Renaissance Medicine: From Scholarly Reception to Practical Impact,' Medical History 45 (2001), 359-376. [e-journal]

*Andrew Wear, 'The Early Modern Debate about Foreign Drugs: Localism versus Universalism in Medicine,' Lancet (July 10, 1999), 149-151. [e-journal]


Further Readings:

Antonio Barrera-Osorio, Experiencing Nature: The Spanish American Empire and the Early Scientific Revolution (Austin, 2006)

Daniela Bleichmar, ‘A Visible and Useful Empire: Visual Culture and Colonial Natural History in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish World,’ in Daniela Bleichmar, Paula De Vos, Kirsten Huffine and Kevin Sheehan (eds.) Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800 (Stanford, 2009), pp. 290-310

Janet Browne, ‘A Science of Empire: British Biogeography Before Darwin,’ Revue d’histoire des sciences 45 (1992), 453-475. [JSTOR]

Ray Desmond, The European Discovery of the Indian Flora (Oxford: Oxford 
University Press, 1992)

Victoria Dickenson, Drawn from Life: Science and Art in the Portrayal of the New World (Toronto, 1998)

Fa-Ti Fan, British Naturalists in Qing China: Science, Empire, and Cultural Encounter (Cambridge, 2004)

Stephen Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Chicago, 1991)

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

David P. Miller and Peter H. Reill (eds) Visions of Empire: Voyages, Botany, and Representations of Nature (Cambridge, 1996)

Brian W. Ogilvie, The Science of Describing: Natural History in Renaissance Europe (Chicago, 2006)

Neil Safier, “Fruitless Botany: Joseph de Jussieu’s South American Odyssey,” in James Delbourgo and Nicolas Dew (eds.), Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (New York, 2007), pp.203-224 [e-book]

Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan (eds.), Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World (Philadelphia, 2007)

Christina Skott, ‘Expanding Flora’s Empire: Linnean Science and the Swedish East India Company’, in Robert Aldrich and Kirsten McKenzie (eds.) The Routledge History of Western Empires (London 2014), pp.238-254

Markia Vicziani, ‘Imperialism, Botany and Statistics in Early Nineteenth-Century India: The Surveys of Francis Buchanan (1762–1829)’, Modern Asian Studies 20 (1986), 625–60 [e-journal]

Richard Yeo, ‘Classifying the sciences’, in Roy Porter (ed.), The Cambridge History of Science: Eighteenth-Century Science (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 241-266 [e-book]

*J. Worth Estes, 'The European Reception of the First Drugs from the New World,' Pharmacy in History 37 (1995), 3-23 [JSTOR]