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DISCRIMINATING EVIDENCE: CLOSENESS AND DISTANCE IN NATURAL AND CIVIL HISTORIES OF THE CARIBBEAN

  • Miles Ogborn (a1)
Abstract

Enlightenment ideas of the “the Great Map of Mankind” established relationships between historical and geographical distance which provided the problematic for eighteenth-century natural and civil histories. This raised issues of evidence for writing such histories that were particularly acute in the Caribbean, where natural history was—via the movement and transplantation of plants, animals and peoples—always a matter of “civil” history; and where the question of what (or who) was “civil” (or civilized) was addressed via discussions of the boundary between humanity and nature. It is shown that how these questions were asked provoked the use of an array of evidence that varied in its management of the relationships of proximity and distance: including travellers’ tales, eyewitness observations, classical authors and philosophical speculation. The epistemological disjunctures that this evidence brought with it meant that the questions that were opened up could not be closed down.

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1 Sloane Hans, A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbadoes, Nieves, St Christophers, and Jamaica; with the Natural History of the Herbs and Trees, Four-Footed Beasts, Fishes, Birds, Insects, Reptiles, &c. Of the last of those islands, 2 vols. (London, 1707–25), vol. 1.

2 James Delbourgo, “Slavery in the Cabinet of Curiosities”, British Museum website, at www.britishmuseum.org/PDF/Delbourgo%20essay.pdf.

3 This is the implication of the separate existence of the drawing of the pots, and its detachment from its label is noted in Sloan Kim, “Sloane's ‘Pictures and Drawings in Frames’ and ‘Books of Miniature & Painting, Designs, &c.”, in Hunter Michael, Walker Alison and MacGregor Arthur, eds., From Books to Bezoars: Sir Hans Sloane and His Collections (London, 2012), 168–89.

4 Sloane, Voyage to Jamaica, 2: 269.

5 Ibid., 1: lxx–lxxi.

6 Kriz Kay Dian, “Curiosities, Commodities, and Transplanted Bodies in Hans Sloane's ‘Natural History of Jamaica’”, William and Mary Quarterly, 57 (2000), 3578, 48; and Ianinni Christopher P., Fatal Revolutions: Natural History, West Indian Slavery, and the Routes of American Literature (Chapel Hill, 2012), chap. 1: “Strange Things, Occult Relations: Emblem and Narrative in Hans Sloane's Voyage to . . . Jamaica”.

7 Kriz Kay Dian, Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement: Picturing the British West Indies, 1700–1840 (New Haven, 2008).

8 Ianinni, Fatal Revolutions, 73.

9 Withers Charles W. J., Placing the Enlightenment: Thinking Geographically about the Age of Reason (Chicago, 2007).

10 Burke Edmund to Robertson William, 9 June 1777, in The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, vol. 3, ed. Guttridge George H. (Cambridge, 1961), 351.

11 Sebastiani Sylvia, The Scottish Enlightenment: Race, Gender, and the Limits of Progress (Basingstoke, 2013).

12 See Sylvia Sebastiani's essay in this forum.

13 Raj Kapil, “Refashioning Civilities, Engineering Trust: William Jones, Indian Intermediaries and the Production of Reliable Legal Knowledge in Late Eighteenth-Century Bengal”, Studies in History, 17 (2001), 175209; Cohn Bernard, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India (Princeton, 1996); and Schaffer Simon, “The Asiatic Enlightenments of British Astronomy”, in Schaffer Simon, Roberts Lissa, Raj Kapil and Delbourgo James, eds., The Brokered World: Go-Betweens and Global Intelligence, 1770–1820 (Sagamore Beach, 2009), 49104.

14 Canizares-Esguerra Jorge, How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies, and Identities in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Stanford, 2001).

15 Ogborn Miles, Global Lives: Britain and the World, 1550–1800 (Cambridge, 2008), chap. 11, “Navigation and Discovery: Voyagers of the Pacific”.

16 Pagden Anthony, Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France c. 1500–c. 1800 (New Haven, 1995).

17 Sebastiani, The Scottish Enlightenment.

18 For example, Browne Patrick, The Civil and Natural History of Jamaica (London, 1756).

19 Barham Henry, Hortus Americanus: Containing An Account of the Trees, Shrubs, and other Vegetable Productions, of South-America and the West-India Islands, and particularly of the Island of Jamaica; Interspersed with many curious and useful Observations, respecting their Uses in Medicine, Diet, and Mechanics (Kingston, Jamaica, 1794). The original manuscript of this work is now lost.

20 “Henry Barham's History of Jamaica”, British Library Additional Manuscripts 12422.

21 Browne, Civil and Natural History of Jamaica, vi.

22 Phillips Mark Salber, On Historical Distance (New Haven, 2013).

23 Shiebinger Londa, Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA., 2004); and Ogborn Miles, “Talking Plants: Botany and Speech in Eighteenth-Century Jamaica”, History of Science, 51 (2013), 251–82.

24 Tobin Beth Fowkes, “Imperial Designs: Botanical Illustration and the British Botanic Empire”, Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 25 (1996), 265–92.

25 Drayton Richard, Nature's Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the “Improvement” of the World (New Haven, 2000); and Shiebinger Londa and Swann Claudia, eds., Colonial Botany: Science, Politics, and Commerce in the Early Modern World (Philadelphia, 2007).

26 Chakrabarti Pratik, Materials and Medicine: Trade, Conquest and Therapeutics in the Eighteenth Century (Manchester, 2010).

27 For Kew see Drayton, Nature's Government; for a discussion of Thomas Thistlewood's gardens on Jamaican pens and plantations see Ogborn, “Talking Plants”.

28 Casid Jill, Sowing Empire: Landscape and Colonization (Minneapolis, 2005).

29 Ibid., 9.

30 Shiebinger, Plants and Empire.

31 Hughes Griffith, The Natural History of Barbados (London, 1750).

32 William Wright, “Hortus Jamaciensis”, 3 vols. Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh.

33 [Arthur Broughton], Hortus Eastensis: Or, A Catalogue of Exotic Plants in the Garden of Hinton East, Esq. In the Mountains of Liguanea, in the Island of Jamaica, At the Time of his Decease. To which are added, Their English Names, Native Places of Growth, by Whom Introduced into the Country, and as far as can be Ascertained the Epoch of their Introduction (Kingston, Jamaica, 1792).

34 Ogborn, “Talking Plants”.

35 [Thomas Dancer], Catalogue of Plants, Exotic and Indigenous, in the Botanical Garden, Jamaica (St Jago de la Vega, Jamaica, 1792). For the obelisk's placement see Thomas Dancer to Edward Long, 24 July 1789, British Library Additional Manuscripts 22678, f. 14v.

36 Burnard Trevor, Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World (Chapel Hill, 2004); Hall Douglas, In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750–1786 (Kingston, Jamaica, 1999); Ogborn, “Talking Plants”.

37 Thomas Thistlewood to Edward Long, 17 June 1776, British Library Additional Manuscripts 18275A, ff. 120v and 121r.

38 Carney Judith A. and Rosomoff Richard Nicholas, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa's Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World (Berkeley, 2009).

39 Sloane, Voyage to Jamaica, 1: Sig B2.

40 Parrish Susan Scott, American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World (Chapel Hill, 2006); Parrish, “Diasporic African Sources of Enlightenment Knowledge”, in Delbourgo James and Dew Nicholas, eds., Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (New York, 2008), 281310.

41 Murphy Kathleen S., “Translating the Vernacular: Indigenous and African Knowledge in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic”, Atlantic Studies, 8 (2011), 2948.

42 [Broughton], Hortus Eastensis, 10.

43 Long Edward, The History of Jamaica. Or, General Survey of the Antient and Modern State of That Island: with Reflections on its Situation, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, Commerce, Laws, and Government, 3 vols. (London, 1774), 2: 381.

44 Fryer Peter, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (London, 1984), 70.

45 Long, History of Jamaica, 2: 370, original emphasis.

46 Leclerc Georges Louis, Buffon Comte de, Barr's Buffon. Buffon's Natural History, 10 vols. (London, 1792), 9: 138, quoted in Salih Sara, “Filling up the Space between Mankind and Ape: Racism, Speciesism and the Androphilic Ape”, Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, 38 (2007), 95111, 104–5.

47 Long, History of Jamaica, 2: 369, original emphasis.

48 In the copy of Long's History of Jamaica in British Library Additional Manuscripts 12405 f. 284 (II, 364).

49 Long, History of Jamaica, 2: 364.

50 Rousseau Jean-Jacques, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Indianapolis, 1992), 81, 83.

51 Ibid., 83.

52 Burnett James, Monboddo Lord, Of the Origin and Progress of Language, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1773), 1 and 2.

53 On beavers see ibid., 283–5.

54 Ibid., 335.

55 Ibid., 2, original emphasis.

56 Ibid., 238.

57 Ibid., 289. For discussion of this see Livingstone David N., Adam's Ancestors: Race, Religion and the Politics of Human Origins (Baltimore, 2008).

58 Monboddo, Of the Origin and Progress of Language, 174–6.

59 Long, History of Jamaica, 2: 371 n. f. The term in Latin is from Horace.

60 Ibid., 2: 371, original emphasis.

61 Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality. For discussion of the idea of the philosophical traveller see Safier Neil, Measuring the New World: Enlightenment Science and South America (Chicago, 2008).

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Modern Intellectual History
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