University of Cambridge > > Cabinet of Natural History > Georg Joseph Kamel (1661–1706): a Jesuit pharmacist in Manila at the borderlines of erudition and empiricism

Georg Joseph Kamel (1661–1706): a Jesuit pharmacist in Manila at the borderlines of erudition and empiricism

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When sent as a pharmacist to the Philippines in 1688, the Bohemian Jesuit Georg Joseph Kamel turned to the local nature to identify resources which he could use in his practice. Due to his growing expertise, Kamel soon entered into correspondence with European intellectuals, namely two members of the Royal Society: the apothecary James Petiver and the naturalist John Ray. Involvement within this network allowed Kamel to deliver his reports of Philippine nature to Europe, where – thanks to his English friends – these accounts appeared in print. In this paper, I will discuss these texts and consider Kamel’s strategies and ambitions in writing his works. Unlike other Jesuit apothecaries, who typically produced easy-to-follow medical handbooks for local use, Kamel’s approach to classification and description of plants clearly points to his scholarly ambitions and his efforts to enter into contemporary European intellectual circles. In presenting his findings and convincing his audience of the credibility of his accounts, then, Kamel drew on both erudite and empirical knowledge. I will suggest that this attitude stemmed directly from his Jesuit training which, on the one hand, was rooted in textual traditions and canonical texts accepted by the Church, but on the other, fostered active, practical and empirical methods in conjunction with the high esteem for mundane labour, utility and individual initiative. These aspects of Kamel’s work, strikingly in accord with Baconian philosophy adopted by the Royal Society, must have facilitated his exchange with its members.

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

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