Modern Asian Studies


Indigenous Knowledge and the Significance of South-West India for Portuguese and Dutch Constructions of Tropical Nature

Richard Grove

While the growing volume of new long distance oceanic trade which developed during the fifteenth century helped to stimulate an awareness of the wider world in Western Europe, it also had a much more specific enabling effect on the development of natural history and the status of science in the eyes of government. A rising interest in empirical fact-gathering and experimentation led to a growing enthusiasm for experimentation with new types of medical practice and new drugs. Apothecaries' gardens became established at the universities and were increasingly stocked with plants imported from distant lands. These gardens became the sites of the first attempts to classify plants on a global basis. The voyages of the first century and a half after the journeys of Henry the Navigator from 1415 onwards had already begun to transform the science of botany and to enlarge medical ambitions for the scope of pharmacology and natural history. The foundation of the new botanic gardens was, therefore, clearly connected with the early expansion of the European economic system and remained an accurate indicator, in a microcosm, of the expansion in European knowledge of the global environment. The origins of the gardens in medical practice meant that, as a knowledge of global nature was acquired, the Hippocratic agendas of medicine and medical practitioners continued to form the dominant basis of European constructions of the extra-European natural world.