Assembling the Tropics: Science and Medicine in Portugal’s Empire, 1450-1700
(Cambridge University Press, 2018) by Hugh Cagle
is an exciting analysis of the production of the tropics as an idea and as a dimension of imperialism through the development of the Portuguese empire. The global connections forged by seafaring empires demanded new ways of conceiving a unified world. As the Portuguese were first to discover, the ancient canon provided little guidance, and far-flung colonies all seemed unique and defied coherent categorization. Through efforts to interpret, control, and economize a their outposts in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, the Portuguese developed novel and creative methods of producing knowledge within a globalizing world. Late in the 17th century, some of these efforts would coalesce around the idea of the tropics as physicians attempted to consolidate their authority over the health of the empire. A space of prodigious nature and profuse disease, the tropics soon became an orienting notion of modern race theory and empires.
Lance C. Thurner recently completed a PhD in History at Rutgers University with a dissertation addressing the production of medical knowledge, political subjectivities, and racial and national identities in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Mexico. He is broadly interested in the methods and politics of applying a global perspective to the history of science and medicine and the role of the humanities in the age of the Anthropocene.