Tropical transplantations : drugs, nature, and globalization in the Portuguese and British Empires, 1640-1755




Breen, Benjamin Patrick

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Prior to the nineteenth century, the boundary between pharmaceuticals used in medicine and recreational intoxicants was blurry. The term “drug” (droga in the Iberian languages) had, in the sixteenth century, signaled anything from tobacco and opium to cinnamon, mercury, and musk. Yet by the middle decades of the seventeenth century, the term began to acquire more modern connotations: psychoactive, exotic, potentially illicit, valuable. “Tropical Transplantations” is a study of the early modern drug trade that focuses on the tropical outposts of the Portuguese empire (particularly Amazonia and Angola) in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It argues that the long-distance trade and transplantation of drug crops influenced not only commerce and empire, but also the construction of scientific knowledge about tropical nature and the emergence of a globalized culture of healing that incorporated Europeans, Africans, and indigenous Americans. Chapter one examines the roles of the apothecaries and drug merchants who transformed tropical materia medica into compound medicines. Chapter two reassesses bioprospecting in the New World interior by reconstructing the hunt for new drugs in seventeenth-century Amazonia, arguing that the search for tropical remedies was an act not of discovery, but of invention. Chapter three moves from Amazonia to Africa, probing the origins of the feiticeiro or “fetisheer” (African healer/sorcerer) as Atlantic world medical practitioners. Chapter four reconstructs little-known schemes to transplant valuable drugs between the East and West Indies and the British and Iberian colonies. Finally, chapter five establishes the broader import of these findings, showing that the global networks of the tropical drug trade profoundly shaped Enlightenment science and European imperialism.



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