Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan
In 1735, the Académie Royale des Sciences in Paris commissioned an expedition to the equatorial regions of South America to measure the length of a degree of meridian near the equator in order to determine the earth's size and shape. The French were the first foreign scientists to penetrate the interior of Spanish Peru: for centuries Spain had guarded the secrets of its American natural resources. Two emissaries of the Spanish Governor accompanied the expedition to make independent observations and to keep an eye on the foreigners. Among the members of the expedition was the French explorer and mathematician Charles-Marie de La Condamine (1701-1774). While La Condamine entered Spanish territory on official business—to find these measurements and to chart the course of the Amazon—he is famous for having taken this opportunity to spirit away seedlings of the precious Peruvian bark trees (Cinchona officinalis) from which quinine derived and of trees yielding valuable caoutchouc (rubber). Among other things, he wished to test the fabled Amazonian botanical poison, curare, with which natives of the region poisoned their arrows, and to settle the question of whether Amazons (the warlike women said to inhabit the wilds of the river named after them) actually existed. Joseph de Jussieu (1704-1779), a member of the dynasty of French naturalists, accompanied La Condamine, who called him his "botanical eyes." Their dream was a familiar one: to procure (legally or not) valuable foreign botanicals—often precious remedies; in this case, cinchona—for production in some part of the French empire. La Condamine wrote of his prospecting for the valuable Peruvian bark:
On June 3rd I spent the whole day on one of these mountains [near Quito in present-day Ecuador]. Though assisted by two Americans of the region whom I took with me as guides, I was able to collect no more than eight or nine young plants of Quinquina [cinchona] in a proper state for transportation. These I had planted in earth taken from the spot in a case of suitable size and had them carried on the shoulders of a man whom I kept constantly in my sight, and then by canoe. I hoped to leave some of the plants at Cayenne [in Guiana] for cultivation and to transport the others to the King's garden in France.
Despite his care, the plants did not prosper (La Condamine was unaware that cinchona grows only at high altitudes). Nonetheless, while gathering geographical information, he also collected seeds of potentially valuable plants—he mentioned ipecacuanha, simarouba, sarsaparilla, guaiacum, cacaos, and vanilla—and kept his eyes open for treasures yet unknown to Europeans.
La Condamine's interests, motivations, aims, and failures are representative of the volatile nexus of botanical science, commerce, and state politics that is the focus of this volume. Throughout the early modern period, from the earliest voyages of discovery, naturalists sought profitable plants for king and country, personal and corporate profit. By surreptitiously acquiring seedlings of the valuable Peruvian bark, La Condamine sought to undercut the Spanish monopoly on this antimalarial, valuable to Europeans in their efforts to colonize tropical areas. Like so many voyaging naturalists, La Condamine depended upon but did not quite trust his "native guides," whom he kept under constant surveillance. Moreover, like other naturalists, La Condamine overestimated the extent to which plants could be appropriated and reacclimatized; his efforts to transplant the delicate cinchona plants were in vain. In a similarly ill-fated assertion of the hegemony of European botanical practices and the unity of global botany, the great Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) sought to grow tea in the frigid wilds of Sweden.
Colonial botany—the study, naming, cultivation, and marketing of plants in colonial contexts—was born of and supported European voyages, conquests, global trade, and scientific exploration. The expanding science of plants depended on access to ever farther-flung regions of the globe; at the same time, colonial profits depended largely on natural historical exploration and the precise identification and effective cultivation of profitable plants. Costly spices and valuable medicinal plants—nutmeg, tobacco, sugar, Peruvian bark, peppers, cloves, cinnamon, tea—ranked prominently among the motivations for voyages of discovery. Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) and Vasco da Gama (1469-1524) aimed to secure sea routes to the rich spices, silks, and dyes of the Moluccas, China, and India that would enable their countries to conduct trade without the intermediary of Middle Eastern and Venetian merchants. Plants also figured in generating funds for European colonial expansion. Already on his second voyage, in 1494, Columbus brought to the West Indies sugarcane cuttings, eventually one of the world's most lucrative cash crops. Colonial endeavors moved plants and knowledge of plants promiscuously around the world. At the height of its powers, the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (Dutch East Indies Company or VOC)—colloquially known as the first multinational company—imported as many as six million pounds of black pepper to the Netherlands annually. Botany was "big science" in the early modern world; it was also big business, enabled by and critical to Europe's bourgeoning trade and colonialism.
This volume presents a number of case studies that, together, chart the shifting relationship between botany, commerce, and state politics in the early modern period. The essays gathered here, written by scholars as international as their subjects, study botanical endeavors in Europe and its colonies as well as in Siberia. Chronologically, they cover three centuries (roughly 1550-1800) of varying colonial and botanical theories and practices. Colonial practices, scientific organization, and commercial connections differed not only over time but also from place to place: the absolute monarchies of Spain and France operated differently in this regard from the United Provinces of the Netherlands, the constitutional monarchy in England, or other states. It is our thesis that early modern botany both facilitated and profited from colonialism and long-distance trade, and that the development of botany and Europe's commercial and territorial expansion are closely associated developments. In ways the remainder of this introduction will suggest, the essays presented here adumbrate an emerging cultural history of plants and botanical practices in Europe and its far-flung colonies and possessions.
Colonial Politics of Botany
One of the primary aims of this volume is to chart a new map of European botany along colonial coordinates, and in this sense it offers a lively challenge to the historiography of early modern botany. A resilient and long-standing narrative in the history of botany has characterized its rise as coincident with and dependent on the development of taxonomy, standardized nomenclature, and "pure" systems of classification. Indeed, the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed key developments in the systematization of many fields. But to isolate the science of botany is to overlook the dynamic relationships among plants, peoples, states, and economies in this period. Recent studies by Richard Drayton, Paula Findlen, Richard Grove, Steven Harris, Lisbet Koerner, Roy MacLeod, James McClellan, David Miller, François Regourd, Emma Spary, Pamela Smith, and others have revealed how early modern science and especially natural history, of which botany was a subfield, remained strategically important in global struggles among emerging nation states for land and resources.
While it is our general thesis that early modern botany intimately supported and profited from European expansion, Europe's emerging nation states engaged in different types of colonial arrangements and in different relationships with traders and naturalists. According to historian Philip Curtin's cogent characterization of these interactions, Spain established a "territorial empire" in the New World. Spanish conquistadors took New Spain (Mexico) and Peru by military conquest and attempted to reproduce the socio-political structures of the Iberian Peninsula in these American domains. Spain's American holdings were not conceived as "colonies" but organized as viceroyalties or kingdoms within a greater federated monarchy. These Spanish-American viceroyalties contrasted with Portuguese and Dutch "trading-post empires." The Dutch, for example, managed their trade through a network of fortified seaports in Goa, Southern Africa (the Cape of Good Hope), Batavia, and in North and South America. Their powerful trading companies—the VOC and the West-Indische Compagnie (Dutch West Indies Company or WIC)—functioned until the last quarter of the seventeenth century as "war instruments," designed to monopolize the spice trade in the East and to undermine Iberian power in the West. These companies held the right to govern, administer justice, conclude treaties, and maintain an army as well as a fleet. Curtin has restricted "settlement empires" or what he calls "true colonization" to North America. Large numbers of Europeans emigrated and settled in North America. Native populations were run out so that these colonies consisted primarily of relocated English and French. Finally, Curtin characterizes European settlement in the Caribbean as the "plantation complex," where Europeans conquered and then replaced vanishing native peoples with settlers, not primarily from Europe as in New England, but from Africa.
While scientific investigation was often bound up with colonialist projects, these intimate connections were pronouncedly varied. The Dutch VOC, for example, was a conglomerate born of small investment initiatives; its ties to the government of the Dutch Republic were forged of individual connections. Scholars have argued that the VOC was an "unwilling maecenas" vis-à-vis science because it only grudgingly allowed for the pursuit of natural historical knowledge by its employees. Instead, enterprising individuals such as Jacobus Bontius (1592-1631), Hendrik van Reede tot Drakenstein (1636-1691), and George Everhard Rumphius (1627-1702) collated and transferred the knowledge of eastern plants to European audiences. The absence of state sponsorhip as such in the east merits comparison, however, with the relationship between Dutch governance of Brazil in the mid seventeenth century and science there.
French science, by contrast, was largely initiated and financed by the king and his ministers. McClellan and Regourd have characterized the highly bureaucratic and centralized organization of French science from the time of Louis XIV onward as a "scientifico-colonial machine." Administered by the Ministère de la Marine et des Colonies and centered in the Jardin du Roi, the government and its naturalists coordinated bioprospecting around the globe to advance the colonial, national, and dynastic interests of the Bourbon monarchy. The efficacy of this "machine" to mobilize material and intellectual resources more than fulfilled royal colonial ambitions: by the 1780s, Saint Domingue, the jewel in the French Crown's sugar islands, was the single richest and most productive colony in the world. French absolutism set the tone for the association between science and government throughout much of the eighteenth century in France and also Europe generally.
A number of the essays in this volume contribute further to the study of early modern colonial governance and botanical practices. Chandra Mukerji discusses how plant collection, cultivation, gardening, and engineering contributed to building the French territorial state. The administration of the Jardin du Roi, in the heart of Paris, worked hand-in-hand with the navy, outfitting ships with medicinal plants required for long voyages and, in turn, receiving specimens from around the globe. The purpose of the King's garden, founded in 1635, was to bring useful and glorious plants under the control of the state, to represent the power of the monarch as part of a lawful system of nature, to improve French forestry, increase French silk production, and generally yield profits. As Mukerji points out, French botanical efforts were intended to consolidate power within France itself and not necessarily overseas. In other European countries, however, the relationships among colonizing efforts, state governance, and botanical practices were not so direct. In his essay, Staffan Müller-Wille addresses the paradox of Linnaeus's system of binomial nomenclature, which was so useful in forging botany into a global science, having emerged in Sweden, a country without significant colonies. More specifically, he situates Linnaean systematics within the context of Swedish cameralism, a political economy that sought to create a "miniaturized mercantile empire" within Swedish borders, thus staunching the flow of bullion out of the country. Botany was to serve this cause by identifying and acclimatizing to Swedish soil plants—such as tea, cinnamon, and rice—that could substitute for expensive imports. Müller-Wille labels Linnaeus's efforts to create for Sweden a science-based, self-sufficient state economy "colonialism turned inwards."
The relationship between individual states and botanical reconnaissance shifted over time. As historian Richard Drayton has shown, English natural history was promoted through individual initiative along Dutch lines until the latter part of the eighteenth century, when the English adopted the successful French model. It is significant that much botanizing was initiated and directed by the British War Office. Along with military intelligence, the Secretary of War asked colonial governors for "botanical dispatches" detailing the management of natural resources in their territories.
Michael Bravo's paper on Moravian naturalists highlights the fact that colonial governance did not originate only in states, trading companies, and metropolitan botanical gardens. Bravo is careful to emphasize that missionary societies cultivated distinctive relationships with their imperial patrons: Catholic Franciscans in California, for example, became cogs in the machinery of the Spanish empire, while Protestant Moravians in Greenland received little more than permission from the Danish crown to settle and purchase land in its territories. Focusing on missionary naturalists also undercuts the view of colonial botany as tied exclusively to large-scale economic activities: most mission gardens were laid to provide only those foods and medicines necessary for survival. The Moravians in the Danish West Indies were an exception. Hardship drew them into the same plantation complex of sugar cane and slave trading as their nonreligious counterparts. Unable to achieve an internally self-sufficient community, these servants of God produced sugarcane for cash—and with the labor of African slaves.
Variations on the relations between colonial governance and botanical practices abound in the early modern period. There are as many sorts of colonial botany as colonies, in the sense that different state structures or companies deployed or produced differing modes of scientific practice. Colonial botany developed along with a web of trade routes, and was informed by patterns of commerce and naval prowess that kept them open.
Local Knowledge(s), Global Science
Vast quantities of botanical specimens and data were brought back to Europe throughout the early modern period by voyages sponsored by colonialist powers. In many cases, data was assimilated to dominant European paradigms for understanding and organizing the natural world, but in some cases, important new paradigms were developed. In her essay, Daniela Bleichmar studies the fascinating example of early modern Spain's foremost authority on the plants of the New World, the Sevillean physician Nicolás Monardes (1508?-1588). His text on New World materia medica, items that Monardes sold as well as prescribed, was a classic of its time. And yet, Monardes himself never crossed the Atlantic. Bleichmar examines the representation of botanical encounters between Old and New World agents and the extent to which they were staged to "cleanse" New World finds of local (often religious) implication, to render the plants and other substances "global goods." Her essay, like others in this volume, raises questions about local knowledge, its accessibility by Europeans, and its transport to the Old World.
Such transport depended on acquiring knowledge of far-flung species in the first place. Acquiring knowledge of this sort necessitated complex encounters among cultures, and often resulted in the overwriting of indigenous or local knowledge and practices. Harold Cook's essay on Dutch botany in Java adduces the model of European botany riding a wave of "objectification" by which specimens were wiped clean of cultural complexities in order to be pasted neatly into folios of European herbaria, shipped effortlessly to European botanical gardens, and included efficiently in European classificatory systems. Cook invokes the metaphor of the palimpsest—wax tablets that even when erased show traces of earlier texts—to characterize European collecting practices in the field. Although naturalists such as Jacob Bontius, whom Cook profiles, in many cases valued the knowledge of their local informants, these informants' words were written on top of erasures so that behind and structuring them were European intellectual and commercial frameworks. According to Cook, new knowledge was made "objective and exchangeable" on European terms.
Müller-Wille, a Linnaean scholar, argues that the political and economic infrastructure of colonialism provided the material base for creating a universal botany and that Linnaean classification enabled all the stuff of nature to be represented in the same "code": Linnaean taxonomy and nomenclature, though "noncolonial in origin, later became one of the prime instruments of colonial exploration," in Müller-Wille's words. Müller-Wille shows how the achievement of European botany depended on systems of taxonomy that reduced plants to specimens, numbers, and names so that a specimen, once identified, represented any plant of its type anywhere in the world where it is found. This, and this alone, enabled a system of global botanical exchange.
While Cook, Bleichmar, and others discuss how Europeans gave short shrift to the metaphysics associated with herbal regimes in many cultures, Antonio Lafuente and Nuria Valverde note that the Linnaean system "worked" only by disregarding the material circumstances in particular locales—climate, soils, altitude, and so forth—important for the cultivation of plants. They argue that the Swede's system was not just "good science," allowing for comparison of species across cultures, but that it became both a "technoscope" and a "teletechnique" that underpinned the success of imperial undertakings. They point out that Spanish colonial administrators required the use of Linnaean taxonomy in the colonies largely for the purposes that Müller-Wille identifies—namely, because it allowed for clear and certain plant identification between the metropole and its colonies. Lafuente and Valverde present the case of Creoles in eighteenth-century New Spain who rejected the Linnaean system of classification and embraced taxonomies that better served their own purpose of effective cultivation of plants in various terrains and under various climatic conditions.
In his essay, Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra shows how Creole interests in horticulture and profit in their own lands led to scientific innovations that have wrongly been credited to Europeans. It was, he demonstrates, Francisco José de Caldas (1768-1816) and his colleagues in New Spain rather than Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), who developed an understanding of the role of climate, altitude, and soil composition in the biogeography of plants. Cañizares also reveals that the Creoles of New Granada imagined their kingdom—not the Spanish metropole—as "the warehouse of the universe" that could become wealthy by supplying the world with natural products. They saw their lands as a microcosm able to supply the world with every food, medicine, and luxury through global commerce.
While several of the authors of this volume dispute the benefits and deficits of the Linnaean system, Emma Spary complicates the story by showing that plant identification depended on a process of cultural negotiations as much as on principles of scientific taxonomy. In a reconstruction of the nutmeg skirmishes on the Isle de France (Mauritius) in the 1750s, she shows that the explosive rivalry among colonial botanists for metropolitan Crown patronage rather than disinterested comparison of species across continents was central to the scientific identification of the commercially valuable nutmeg. Botanical "truths" (clear identification of species), she posits, were grounded as much in a botanist's standing in colonial hierarchies as in a plant's morphology. Spary emphasizes that species are not born but made in a process of negotiation between botanists, their patrons, and the expediencies of the marketplace. Cultural negotiations, whether in the case of nutmeg or the Michoacan root, which Monardes described and sold in Seville, deeply conditioned the production of colonial botanical knowledge.
Columbian Exchange Revised: Making and Remaking Nature
Early modern European botany and botanists participated not only in knowing nature, but in reconfiguring it as well. Environments and floral terrains—both inside and outside Europe—changed radically as markets shifted and governments came and went. Europeans' efforts to develop scientific taxonomies to capture the order of nature coincided, at times paradoxically, with large-scale alteration of nature by European global botanical, economic, and military operations. Since ancient times, the spread of useful cultigens has been a constant feature of human history. From the fifteenth century on, however, European colonial expansion touched off an unprecedented widespread movement of flora globally that, as Marie-Noëlle Bourguet reminds us in her essay, deeply restructured the world agricultural map. Alfred Crosby captured this frenzy of European activity in his analysis of the "Columbian exchange." Maize, the common bean, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes all moved by ship from the Americas to Europe and Africa. Wheat, rye, oats, and old world vegetables were shipped from the Old World to the New. The seventeenth-century English slaver Richard Ligon, for example, carried from England to Barbados the seeds of "Rosemary, Time, Winter Savory, Sweet Margerom, Pot Marjerom, Parsley, Penniroyall, Camomile, Sage, Tansie, Lavender, Cotten, Garlicks, Onyons, Colworts, Cabbage, Turnips, Redishes, Marigolds, Lettice, Taragon, Southernwood." All the seeds, he noted, grew and "prospered well." Historian Jack Kloppenberg has remarked that this exchange of foodstuffs was of such magnitude that it enabled European industrialization after 1750.
The story of European Columbian exchange is well known. As Judith Carney stresses in her Black Rice and in her essay in this volume, Europeans were not the only force moving useful cultigens from continent to continent. Africans, in their forced migration on European vessels from their homelands into the Americas, carried not only seeds and plants but the technologies for their cultivation as well. Slave dooryard gardens and provision fields—"botanical gardens of the dispossessed," she calls them—provided the staging ground for this African "diaspora" of cultigens. Carney also argues that these gardens should be, but rarely are, conceptualized as part of the colonial network of botanical gardens. Already in the seventeenth century, slavers noted that Africans often brought seeds with them. These included Guinea corn, oil bush (used as a remedy for ulcers), prickly yam vine, and gourd vine. As Carney points out, slaves also cultivated African domesticates in their new homelands; these included okra (used along with gulley root as an abortifacient), black-eyed peas, and watermelons. She designates African slaves "active botanists," who along with Amerindians and Europeans shaped the agricultural systems of the Americas.
While European colonization of territory and knowledge alike cannot be denied, the vexed and vexing relationships between knowledge systems developed by indigenous peoples of Europe's commercial and territorial colonies and European efforts to gather, understand, and transport that knowledge remain tremendously fruitful areas of research. Taking a cue from Richard Grove's work, which emphasizes the influence of extra-European natural systems on European naturalists, authors in this volume pay close attention to the agents of knowledge, asking whose knowledge is represented in accounts compiled by colonial botanists and how knowledge systems from other parts of the world influenced European academic botany and colonial practices.
Who were Colonial Botanists?
When we refer to botanists in the early modern period, we tend to have in mind academically-educated Europeans; the terms botaniste and botany embody European concepts developed in the late seventeenth century to denote specialists learned in the taxonomy and nomenclature of plants. Prior to that time, the term botanicus was used to qualify interest in the plant world common among medical professionals, naturalists, and amateurs alike. The newer, more specialized usage of the term "botanist" accompanied a fundamental shift in Europe in the early modern period, when the academic study of plants split away from a practice-based tradition. Increasing professionalization of engagement with the natural world went hand-in-hand with greater standardization of methods and means within medicine and pharmacology. Distinctions sharpened in this period between text-based, learned, academic practices and oral, indigenous traditions.
European botanists voyaging out to the colonies were a varied lot. Some were traveling missionaries; many were academically trained as physicians or apothecaries. A few paid their own passage; most were sent by trading companies, kings, or scientific academies. Historical accounts often cite the voyagers' national origin and profession. Such distinctions are important, but religion also forced important divides.
Other important differences arose in the colonies between naturalists who merely passed through and those who settled in. Many voyagers and naturalists, such as Hans Sloane (1660-1753), went to the colonies as young men, attempting to amass fortunes and to return as quickly as possible to Europe. Others, like Jacobus Bontius or Jean- Baptiste-Christophe Fusée Aublet (1720-1778) put down deep roots, intending to stay for extended periods of time. As noted above, Spanish Creoles born and educated in the Americas held attitudes toward nature and its representations that differed significantly from those of Iberians. Bleichmar points out that some of the greatest prospectors—Monardes, for example—never left Europe but, like those individuals who would come in the eighteenth century to be known as botanistes de cabinet, collected, studied, classified, experimented with, and popularized the bounty of nature from university posts and botanical gardens at home.
Stories of colonial science often recount the deeds—heroic or ignoble—of European men. In this volume, women too emerge as active agents of natural knowledge; but because they seldom wrote and published books themselves, we have access to their knowledge (like that of many of the indigenous peoples of colonized regions) only through the texts of European men. Women hardly served as European "colonial botanists"; they rarely numbered among academically trained naturalists who voyaged in the service of god, crown, or country. Even the celebrated Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), who provided much information about New World flora in the early eighteenth century, was primarily interested in insects. Indigenous women, however, played a central role as informants to Europeans in the East Indies, as per Cook's account of Bontius's herbalizing in and around Batavia, and in the West Indies, as per Londa Schiebinger's analysis of European bioprospecting among the Tainos, Arawaks, Caribs, and African slaves. The study of colonial botany, and of science more generally, has tended to privilege texts and hence the knowledge of the Europeans producing them. Careful perusal, however, often reveals women's learning and practices represented in academic compilations produced by learned men.
This volume also complicates received notions of "encounters" between European voyagers and the indigenous peoples of foreign and faraway lands, who were frequently considered "simple" and even "barbarous." Kapil Raj argues that historians often construe Europeans as the producers of knowledge and indigenous peoples as mere suppliers of material artifacts from which that knowledge is born, and in so doing diminish the accomplishments of non-European peoples. He argues that ancient and highly developed knowledge systems existed and circulated in South Asia long before Europeans touched these shores. According to Raj, the French naturalist Nicolas L'Empereur (c. 1660-1742), whose unpublished manuscript he recently found in the archives of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, simply translated and reconfigured Orivan, Telugu, Tamil, and other ancient knowledge about plants and their uses for a European market. Raj shows that collecting in the East Indies, where Europeans formed but a small and new commercial group among many long-established trading communities, was far different from collecting in the West Indies, where Europeans quickly overpowered many native peoples. Europeans' "encounters" in the East followed already formalized relations and highly stylized civilities that predated their incursion into these ancient trading networks.
It is important to note that "encounters" took place on European soil as well as on foreign territory. From the sixteenth century on, academic naturalists sought to record and codify "indigenous" traditions among European lay herbalists, many of them women, in a process very similar to that undertaken in the colonies. In her classic text on European herbals, historian Agnes Arber underscores how countrywomen in Europe served as repositories of knowledge concerning medicinal herbs. Such encounters crossed gender and professional lines; in most cases, it was academic botanists and medical professionals who sought out herbalists and their practical knowledge. Anton Schneeberger, a Polish botanist, declared in 1557 that he "was not ashamed to be the pupil of an old peasant woman." Müller-Wille, in his essay, notes that Linnaeus also valued the knowledge of the "vulgars," as he called them—common people without formal botanical training. Schiebinger discusses the process by which naturalists, often with government sponsorship, tested and then purchased "marvellous secrets"—sometimes at exorbitant prices—from lay healers of both sexes.
A number of the essays in this volume draw on instances in which indigenous knowledge—whether European or foreign—was highly valued by European botanists. Bontius, for example, considered the knowledge of the Javanese superior to that of Greek and Roman authorities. He objected that Europeans called the locals in Batavia "barbarians," finding that their knowledge of herbs "leaves our own far behind." Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698-1759), president of the Berlin-Brandenburg Akademie der Wissenschaften, also praised the medical knowledge of non-European peoples, stating that Europeans owed their knowledge of effective tropical medicines to them. European racist tendencies were tempered by the recognition that inhabitants in the colonies—whether Bengali slaves, Malayan women in Indonesia, devout fakirs in India, or the peoples of the Americas—often possessed knowledge worth recruiting. In the early years of voyaging, Europeans' tenuous foothold in tropical areas compelled them to seek out knowledge of the peoples of those areas upon which their very survival often depended. Male voyagers—the majority in the early modern period—often sought care from local women who, familiar with the plants of the regions, were able to prepare suitable foods for them and administer appropriate medicines when they fell ill.
Europeans' respect, however, for traditional knowledges gradually waned over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Andrew Lewis notes the beginnings of this trend in his essay on botany in the new Republic of the United States. By the early years of the nineteenth century, academic botanists, who had previously sought out Native American knowledge concerning plants and their uses began disparaging Native American knowledge as "superstitions." While many U.S. farmers and artisans continued to value traditional medical practices and folk-knowledge, urban academic botanists became increasingly interested in developing the science of plants in ways that made plant identification more exact and supplies of natural products to industry more dependable.
Material Culture of Colonial Botany
Fast-running ships, collecting boxes, books, gardens, and green houses, both portable and fixed, were among the materials botanists mobilized to collect, record, and move nature from place to place. Marie-Noëlle Bourguet adds to this inventory of instruments and artifacts thermometers and barometers, useful for keeping plants alive during transfers from one climate to another. Thermometers—gas, mercury, or alcohol—also provided a map of daily temperatures collected from around the world and supplied the metropolis with valuable information for setting out new trade routes and colonial settlements. Setting plantations at the right altitude and in the right soil and climatic conditions allowed cash crops such as coffee, for example, not merely to grow but to flourish and produce a maximized yield. Acclimatization was a key concern, whether plants were to be grown in Europe or to be produced in colonial territories.
By the end of the eighteenth century, Europe possessed some sixteen hundred botanical gardens connecting scientific enterprises, plant acclimatization, plant transfers and experimentation around the world. Bourguet calls naturalists "gardeners of the earth," as they reshaped global flora by moving plants across seas and climates. The skills of botanists and horticulturalists were crucial to establishing revictualing gardens along trade routes to restock trading company and naval vessels with familiar European fare. In turn, botanical gardens served as the laboratories of colonial botany. Botanists transferred plants from garden to garden around the world, building inventories and stocks of natural goods and thus facilitating the study, cultivation, and experimentation with profitable plants from all parts of the globe. Thomas Dancer (c. 1750-1811), the "island botanist" in Jamaica, wrote in 1804, "The necessity of a botanical garden for promoting the knowledge of plants in general, and for the introduction and cultivation of exotics that are rare, curious, and useful, whether in medicine or the arts, is, in the present age, so universally apparent, that there is hardly in any part of the civilized world wanting some such establishment." The value of botanical gardens has been proved, Dancer stated, by the study and introduction of several varieties of sugarcane that improved yield and profits.
Commerce not only provided the rationale, capital, and routes for botanical exploration; it also provided techniques for recording the wealth of the vegetable kingdom. In her essay on the German scholar and physician Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt (1685-1735), who traveled to Siberia on behalf of the Russian Czar Peter the Great, Anke te Heesen analyzes the association in the early modern period between mercantile bookkeeping methods and botanists' techniques for inventorying natural goods. Mercantile patterns of thought and behavior structured the experience and records of collectors such as Messerschmidt who deployed, as te Heesen shows, cognitive and material techniques for recording the natural world as he encountered it. The double-entry bookkeeping technique he adapted to his own ends allowed Messerschmidt to maintain astoundingly precise records of his experience in the field. Over the course of his seven-year expedition, he assembled manuscripts, catalogues, and notebooks, cross-referenced to his daily encounters and to a burgeoning collection of natural historical specimens he would take back to St. Petersburg with him.
Revisiting the history of the objects and practices of colonial botany requires us to think about the ways in which things from far-flung places were amassed, transported, collected, bought and sold, processed, and otherwise put to use. In most cases, this concerns the storage and cultivation of specimens in gardens and other collections; colonial botany was also practiced through pictorial representation, indexing and classifying practices, and display. By way of addressing how botanical specimens were acquired and circulated and how they came to be known and understood, Claudia Swan examines early seventeenth-century Dutch collection of exotic specimens as an instance of botany's material culture. Her essay asks how collecting and knowledge production were associated, and treats the social bonds crucial to the production of botanical knowledge in particular. Naturalists and medical professionals alike performed botanical work in the context of and process of accumulating collections of naturalia, many of which can be traced to the trade voyages that filled Dutch coffers.
Pictorial and written accounts of new natural histories were generally integral to efforts to assimilate them—or, at least, to understand them. Visual representation was a long-standing means of accounting for new experiences of the plant world. In many cases, voyagers were accompanied by artists or made images themselves, to record specimens as they encountered them. The fifteenth-century book that has been called "the first printed illustrated account of the results of a journey undertaken with scientific purposes in mind," the Gart der Gesundheit (1485, Mainz), was written by an anonymous gentleman who traveled to the Middle East to study plants in the company of a painter. Similarly, Dutch-trained artists accompanied Johan Maurits, Dutch Governor in Brazil, in the 1630s and 1640s—along with naturalists, they worked to produce what Maurits himself would call a "portrait" of the country's peoples, animals, birds, fish, and fruits. As Rebecca Parker Brienen has recently argued, the efforts to capture and record Brazilian flora and fauna "strengthened Johan Maurits's position as a colonial and cultural leader."
In this volume, authors Raj and Hochstrasser offer the most sustained analyses of the visual culture of early modern botany. Hochstrasser unpacks the common (to the point of commonly overlooked) inclusion of pictorial references to colonial botany in still life paintings of the Dutch Golden Age. Seventeenth-century paintings served up colonial luxuries—lemons from the Mediterranean, salt from Brazil, silver (in tableware) from Mexico and Peru, grain (in bread) from the Baltic, and peppercorns from Malabar. Densely strewn tabletops extol Dutch trading prowess by showing its fruits. As Hochstrasser shows, however, what is represented in these pictures is as significant as what is omitted: a cruel story of oppression undergirds the availability of pepper, the commodity on which she trains her gaze. The celebratory tone of many of these pronk—or sumptuous-still life paintings masks the means by which these goods were procured. Raj's essay brings to light an unpublished manuscript whose extraordinary illuminations bear witness to a completely different tradition of representation of colonial botany. Whereas many Europeans produced images of colonial bounty themselves or had them made by European-trained artists, other traditions and conventions were also in play. The fact that so few records of encounters between alternative modes of scientific representation exist or survive makes the L'Empereur manuscript all the more significant. As the image from it on the cover of this volume reveals, illustration of colonial botanics also consisted in hybrids of European pictorial idioms and indigenous Asian artistic styles.
* * * * *
In his foundational Nature and Empire, Roy MacLeod calls for a history of colonial science that "tests similarities and differences between and among imperial systems" and, more importantly, that begins to sketch "the process of multiple engagements—between Europeans at home and abroad, between European and indigenous [colonial] peoples, and between Western and non-Western science." In concert with MacLeod's appeal, this volume sets out the great variety in colonial governance in different parts of the world, as well as the diversity of commercial and scientific establishments planted around the globe. Authors in this volume have also been sensitive to exactly how knowledge was produced—in both material and intellectual terms. This anthology offers the groundwork for a reappraisal of the relations between indigenous and academic knowledge. What emerges is a picture of the active contributions of the indigenous people, whether in the West Indies, India, or Java. What also emerges is the rebellious character and active contribution of many Europeans who became native to colonial areas. The Spanish Creoles, living in New Spain, in particular, challenged the value of European systems of classification for developing medicinal and agrarian plants in their country. In the early modern world, European botany was one system of plant knowledge among many.
As much as this collection of essays examines how knowledge traveled and was translated between cultures, it also highlights how nature—in the form of seeds, cuttings, and cash crops—traveled between continents and peoples. Europeans' desire to develop commercial crops brought cuttings of nutmeg from Dutch colonial areas in the East Indies (the islands of Amboina and Banda) to French colonies in the Indian Ocean (Mauritius), where they were cultivated in large monocultures. The same is true of sugar cane, which transformed the landscape of the Caribbean and rice, which remade coastal areas of the Carolinas. The story of colonial botany is as much a story of transplanting nature as it is of transforming knowledge. While this volume cannot comprehensively cover all times, places, and topics important to early modern colonial botany, we offer it as the beginnings of what we hope will come to constitute a larger cultural history of plants and botanical practices in Europe and its colonies.