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Assembling the Tropics
Science and Medicine in Portugal's Empire, 1450–1700


Award Winner

Part of Studies in Comparative World History

  • Date Published: December 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316647424

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About the Authors
  • From popular fiction to modern biomedicine, the tropics are defined by two essential features: prodigious nature and debilitating illness. That was not always so. In this engaging and imaginative study, Hugh Cagle shows how such a vision was created. Along the way, he challenges conventional accounts of the Scientific Revolution. The history of 'the tropics' is the story of science in Europe's first global empire. Beginning in the late fifteenth century, Portugal established colonies from sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia and South America, enabling the earliest comparisons of nature and disease across the tropical world. Assembling the Tropics shows how the proliferation of colonial approaches to medicine and natural history led to the assemblage of 'the tropics' as a single, coherent, and internally consistent global region. This is a story about how places acquire medical meaning, about how nature and disease become objects of scientific inquiry, and about what is at stake when that happens.

    • Proposes a new history of the tropics, showing the influence of globalization
    • Combines the histories of South Asia and Latin America
    • Explores the contributions of Portugal's empire to the history of Iberian science
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    • Winner, 2019 Leo Gershoy Award, American Historical Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Assembling the Tropics is a powerful, passionate, and beautifully realized piece of scholarship. It makes an exceptionally important intervention by at long last placing Portugal and the Lusophone world where they belong - right at the heart of early modern global science and medicine.' James Delbourgo, Rutgers University, New Jersey

    'Assembling the Tropics provides a richly empirical and compellingly dynamic perspective on medicine and natural history across the early modern Portuguese empire. Mobilizing case studies from Africa, India, and Brazil, Cagle shows how diverse cultures of natural inquiry in metropolitan Lisbon and its colonies fitfully converged on a coherent vision of the tropics.' Florence C. Hsia, University of Wisconsin, Madison

    '… wide-ranging, richly researched and closely reasoned … Assembling the Tropics builds upon the extensive secondary literature that has grown up around the early Portuguese empire in recent decades…' David Arnold, Social History of Medicine

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    Product details

    • Date Published: December 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316647424
    • length: 384 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 150 x 25 mm
    • weight: 0.5kg
    • contains: 22 b/w illus. 3 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Reading between the lines: a prologue
    Part I. The Coast of Africa, 1450–1550:
    2. Dead reckonings
    Part II. The Indian Ocean World, 1500–1600:
    3. Itineraries and inventories
    4. Drug traffic
    5. Facts and fictions
    Part III. The Portuguese Atlantic, 1550–1700:
    6. Moral hazards
    7. Split decisions
    8. Fault lines
    9. Epilogue: South-South exchanges.

  • Author

    Hugh Cagle, University of Utah
    Hugh Cagle is Assistant Professor of the History of Science at the University of Utah, where he is also Director of the International Studies program.


    • Winner, 2019 Leo Gershoy Award, American Historical Association

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