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Georg Joseph Kamel (1661–1706): natural knowledge in transit between the Philippines and Europe

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When stationed in Manila at the turn of the 18th century, the Jesuit pharmacist Georg Joseph Kamel found himself engaged in encounters between European and local traditions of knowledge. Based on his local experience, he produced extensive treatises of Philippine flora, which were later printed in Europe. Focusing on the practices involved in Kamel’s knowledge production, this paper will explore Kamel’s strategies in translating Philippine nature from local to European contexts. I will open with an examination of Kamel’s plant classification system, which reveals categories of knowledge inspired by Filipino indigenous traditions and shows entanglements between European science and local exigencies. However, upon arrival in Europe, these hybrid categories found little understanding among sedentary European naturalists and became lost in translation. Kamel was more successful in his attempts to transplant Philippine medicinal herbs. Through building associations with plants described by canonical authors of the Old World, Kamel sought to ‘Galenise’ Philippine medicinal plants – that is, to incorporate them into the Galenic medical tradition. In this manner, Kamel endowed plants with clear theoretical foundations comprehensible to European experts and customers and paved the way for their deployment on both local and global scales and markets.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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