Daily Archives: November 15, 2015

The Moral Authority of Nature: Lorraine Daston, Fernando Vidal

For thousands of years, people have used nature to justify their political, moral, and social judgments. Such appeals to the moral authority of nature are still very much with us today, as heated debates over genetically modified organisms and human cloning testify.

The Moral Authority of Nature offers a wide-ranging account of how people have used nature to think about what counts as good, beautiful, just, or valuable. The eighteen essays cover a diverse array of topics, including the connection of cosmic and human orders in ancient Greece, medieval notions of sexual disorder, early modern contexts for categorizing individuals and judging acts as “against nature,” race and the origin of humans, ecological economics, and radical feminism. The essays also range widely in time and place, from archaic Greece to early twentieth-century China, medieval Europe to contemporary America.

Scholars from a wide variety of fields will welcome The Moral Authority of Nature, which provides the first sustained historical survey of its topic.

Contributors:
Danielle Allen, Joan Cadden, Lorraine Daston, Fa-ti Fan, Eckhardt Fuchs, Valentin Groebner, Abigail J. Lustig, Gregg Mitman, Michelle Murphy, Katharine Park, Matt Price, Robert N. Proctor, Helmut Puff, Robert J. Richards, Londa Schiebinger, Laura Slatkin, Julia Adeney Thomas, Fernando Vidal

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice

Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World: Londa Schiebinger

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 botany.

But 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.

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice

Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Garden: Ms. Lucile H. Brockway, Lucile H. Brockway

This widely acclaimed book analyzes the political effects of scientific research as exemplified by one field, economic botany, during one epoch, the nineteenth century, when Great Britain was the world’s most powerful nation. Lucile Brockway examines how the British botanic garden network developed and transferred economically important plants to different parts of the world to promote the prosperity of the Empire. In this classic work, available once again after many years out of print, Brockway examines in detail three cases in which British scientists transferred important crop plants-cinchona (a source of quinine), rubber and sisal-to new continents. Weaving together botanical, historical, economic, political, and ethnographic findings, the author illuminates the remarkable social role of botany and the entwined relation between science and politics in an imperial era.

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice

Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World : Londa Schiebinger, Claudia Swan

In the early modern world, botany was big science and big business, critical to Europe’s national and trade ambitions. Tracing the dynamic relationships among plants, peoples, states, and economies over the course of three centuries, this collection of essays offers a lively challenge to a historiography that has emphasized the rise of modern botany as a story of taxonomies and “pure” systems of classification. Charting a new map of botany along colonial coordinates, reaching from Europe to the New World, India, Asia, and other points on the globe, Colonial Botany explores how the study, naming, cultivation, and marketing of rare and beautiful plants resulted from and shaped European voyages, conquests, global trade, and scientific exploration.

From the earliest voyages of discovery, naturalists sought profitable plants for king and country, personal and corporate gain. Costly spices and valuable medicinal plants such as nutmeg, tobacco, sugar, Peruvian bark, peppers, cloves, cinnamon, and tea ranked prominently among the motivations for European voyages of discovery. At the same time, colonial profits depended largely on natural historical exploration and the precise identification and effective cultivation of profitable plants. This volume breaks new ground by treating the development of the science of botany in its colonial context and situating the early modern exploration of the plant world at the volatile nexus of science, commerce, and state politics.

Written by scholars as international as their subjects, Colonial Botany uncovers an emerging cultural history of plants and botanical practices in Europe and its possessions.

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice

American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World: Susan Scott Parrish

Colonial America presented a new world of natural curiosities for settlers as well as the London-based scientific community.

In American Curiosity, Susan Scott Parrish examines how various peoples in the British colonies understood and represented the natural world around them from the late sixteenth century through the eighteenth. Parrish shows how scientific knowledge about America, rather than flowing strictly from metropole to colony, emerged from a horizontal exchange of information across the Atlantic.

Delving into an understudied archive of letters, Parrish uncovers early descriptions of American natural phenomena as well as clues to how people in the colonies construed their own identities through the natural world. Although hierarchies of gender, class, institutional learning, place of birth or residence, and race persisted within the natural history community, the contributions of any participant were considered valuable as long as they supplied novel data or specimens from the American side of the Atlantic. Thus Anglo-American nonelites, women, Indians, and enslaved Africans all played crucial roles in gathering and relaying new information to Europe.

Recognizing a significant tradition of nature writing and representation in North America well before the Transcendentalists, American Curiosity also enlarges our notions of the scientific Enlightenment by looking beyond European centers to find a socially inclusive American base to a true transatlantic expansion of knowledge.

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice

Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the “Improvement” of the World | Richard Drayton

‘Nature’s Government’ is a daring attempt to juxtapose the histories of Britain, western science, and imperialism. It shows how colonial expansion, from the age of Alexander the Great to the twentieth century, led to complex kinds of knowledge. Science, and botany in particular, was fed by information culled from the exploration of the globe.

At the same time science was useful to imperialism: it guided the exploitation of exotic environments and made conquest seem necessary, legitimate, and beneficial. Drayton traces the history of this idea of ‘improvement’ from its Christian agrarian origins in the sixteenth century to its inclusion in theories of enlightened despotism. It was as providers of legitimacy, as much as of universal knowledge, aesthetic perfection, and agricultural plenty, he argues, that botanic gardens became instruments of government, first in Continental Europe, and by the late eighteenth century, in Britain and the British Empire.

At the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the rise of which throughout the nineteenth century is a central theme of this book, a pioneering scientific institution was added to a spectacular ornamental garden. At Kew, ‘improving’ the world became a potent argument for both the patronage of science at home and Britain’s prerogatives abroad. ‘Nature’s Government’ provides a portrait of how the ambitions of the Enlightenment shaped the great age of British power, and how empire changed the British experience and the modern world. Richard Drayton was born in the Caribbean and educated at Harvard, Oxford, and Yale. A former Fellow of St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and Lincoln College, Oxford, he has also been Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia.

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice

Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 | J.R. McNeill

This book explores the links among ecology, disease, and international politics in the context of the Greater Caribbean – the landscapes lying between Surinam and the Chesapeake –

in the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries. Ecological changes made these landscapes especially suitable for the vector mosquitoes of yellow fever and malaria, and these diseases wrought systematic havoc among armies and would-be settlers.

Because yellow fever confers immunity on survivors of the disease, and because malaria confers resistance, these diseases played partisan roles in the struggles for empire and revolution, attacking some populations more severely than others. In particular, yellow fever and malaria attacked newcomers to the region, which helped keep the Spanish Empire Spanish in the face of predatory rivals in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In the late eighteenth and through the nineteenth century, these diseases helped revolutions to succeed by decimating forces sent out from Europe to prevent them.

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice