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Georg Joseph Kamel SJ (1661–1706): Natural and Medical Knowledge in Transit Between the Philippines and Europe

Recorded 7 October 2021

Speaker: Sebestian Kroupa (King’s College London)

When stationed in Manila at the turn of the eighteenth 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 the first comprehensive 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 plants from local to European contexts. It will demonstrate that 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, he 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. The paper will focus on the global lives of the indigenous Filipino panacea locally called igasud, which the Jesuits rebranded and marketed as the St Ignatius bean. By providing an account that integrates the plant’s indigenous uses, its appropriation and its reception in Europe and the Americas, the paper will demonstrate how a medicinal plant used by non-European communities became a globally consumed commodity.
Dr Sebestian Kroupa
 is a historian of early modern science and medicine specialising in cross-cultural exchanges of knowledge and objects on a global scale. He received his PhD in 2019 from the University of Cambridge with a dissertation on communications of natural knowledge between the Philippines and Europe and subsequently joined the Renaissance Skin Project at King’s College London, where he focused on early modern Filipino tattooing. In 2021/22, he will be returning to Cambridge to take up a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship with a project on early modern trans-Pacific exchanges of plants, and the knowledge and practices associated with them.

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