PDF/EPUB Londa Schiebinger À À Plants and Empire Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic

Plants seldom figure in the grand narratives of war peace or even everyday life yet they are often at the center of high intrigue In the eighteenth century epic scientific voyages were sponsored by European imperial powers to explore the natural riches of the New World and uncover the botanical secrets of its people Bioprospectors brought back medicines luxuries and staples for their king and country Risking their lives to discover exotic plants these daredevil explorers joined with their sponsors to create a global culture of botanyBut some secrets were unearthed only to be lost again In this moving account of the abuses of indigenous Caribbean people and African slaves Schiebinger describes how slave women brewed the peacock flower into an abortifacient to ensure that they would bear no children into oppression Yet impeded by trade winds of prevailing opinion knowledge of West Indian abortifacients never flowed into Europe A rich history of discovery and loss Plants and Empire explores the movement triumph and extinction of knowledge in the course of encounters between Europeans and the Caribbean populations


10 thoughts on “Plants and Empire Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World

  1. says:

    I really enjoyed Shiebinger's book Here she investigates a case of what she and Robert Proctor call agnotology This is a slippery concept but it basically points to instances in which knowledge is not developed and spread despite the fact that it is well understood in certain locales To flesh out this idea she looks to the spread of certain abortifacients that were commonly used especially among slave populations in the 16th through 18th century Caribbean colonies The first two chapters look at the early development of what Shiebinger anachronistically? still not sure how I feel about this names bioprospecting She pays particular attention to the paucity of women on such missions all the while pointing out some rather amazing exceptions one fifty year old women who takes over her dead husband's position as a naturalist and another case in which a young woman actually passed herself off as a man for over a year She next turns to the relations between these bioprospectors and the native populations they encounter This account is particularly problematic though Shiebinger acknowledges this fact due to the absolute lack of accounts of the points of view of the natives The resulting chapter can't help but portray natives as slippery cunning and difficult foiling the pompous dogmatic and borderline foolish Europeans' attempts to pry valuable plant knowledge from locals I'll admit that I enjoyed reading this even though it sent my historical accuracy alarm bells a ringing Following these first two rather charming chapters Shiebinger delves into the dark and repulsive world of the Caribbean slave sexual economy arguing that slave women often aborted as a form of resistance Clearly slave women possessed this knowledge as did many colonial administrators Despite this as Shiebinger shows knowledge of particular types of abortifacients never took root in Europe The fact that mercantilist economies were generally pronatalist and that women rarely embarked on bioprospecting voyages in conjunction with the dangers of abortifacients as well as their moral ambiguity most were looked down on but not outlawed until the early 19th century in Western Europe led to a form of willful European ignorance From a historical evidence point of view I think the fact that certain colonial administrators knew of Caribbean abortifacients and condemned them or refused to transmit that knowledge is if not a smoking gun a solid fingerprint Otherwise it really is difficult to know exactly why something doesn't happen Usually historians focus on why things DO happen so it's a bit of an inversion of our typical argumentative style This presents significant challenges though not I think insurmountableI think the idea of agnotology is very powerful Shiebinger's concluding vignette in which two Dominican doctors reveal their knowledge of abortifacients but refuse to be named on account of the illegality of abortion suggest that we should have an ongoing concern about our own forms of cultivated ignorance even outside the context of early colonial encounters in our highly globalized world The notion that our current beliefs infrastructres political machines etc actively and perhaps even subconsciously cull certain facts or knowledge outside of things we think are false or irrelevant is a big and unsettling idea in its own rightAs a rambling asideconclusion I approve of the fact that Shiebinger didn't make recourse to the actual efficacy of abortifacients to make her case it's only necessary for the historical actors to believe in their efficacybutI did want to know about whether or not they like worked and whether that had to do with their lack of transmission This points to the slippery slope of judging whether the truth uality of knowledge has anything to do with its spreadI know that no naive position should be taken on this pointbut I wish she'd talked about this instead of just dismissing it as something historians of science have typically erroneously presumed


  2. says:

    An excellent book on the interrelationship between botany and empire particularly in regards to the peacock flower of the Caribbean which was used as an abortifacient by both Indigenous and African slave women Schiebinger delves into the world of agnotology culturally induced ignorance in exploring how the peacock flower was known and not known in the colonial era


  3. says:

    Très intéressant Un regard différent sur l'histoire des femmes de la médecine des plantes et du colonialisme


  4. says:

    What I learned from this book is that if I am ever in need of an abortion after Sarah Palin and John McCain outlaw such sinful practices there is an abortifacient plant growing all over my neighborhood Also I learned that abortions used to be performed by handuite literallyand that the Catholic church used to have no problem with abortions as long as they occurred before the ensoulment of the fetus


  5. says:

    Love it All chapters useful; wonderful detail on Linnaeus and the Linnaean system Thoughtful enviable wonderful


  6. says:

    Interesting idea but sort of slow