Colonizing Nature: The Tropics in British Arts and Letters, by Beth Fowkes Tobin

By Beth Fowkes Tobin

With its keep an eye on of sugar plantations within the Caribbean and tea, cotton, and indigo creation in India, Britain within the eighteenth and 19th centuries ruled the worldwide financial system of tropical agriculture. In Colonizing Nature, Beth Fowkes Tobin exhibits how dominion over "the tropics" as either a quarter and an concept grew to become critical to the best way Britons imagined their function within the world.

Tobin examines georgic poetry, panorama portraiture, common heritage writing, and botanical prints produced by means of Britons within the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and India to discover how each one performed a very important function in constructing the assumption that the tropics have been at the same time paradisiacal and wanting British intervention and administration. Her learn examines how slave backyard snap shots denied the horticultural services of the slaves, how the East India corporation employed such artists as William Hodges to color and thereby Anglicize the panorama and gardens of British-controlled India, and the way writers from Captain James cook dinner to Sir James E. Smith depicted tropical lands and plants.

Just as mastery of tropical nature, and particularly its strength for agricultural productiveness, grew to become key techniques within the formation of British imperial id, Colonizing Nature means that highbrow and visible mastery of the tropics—through the production of artwork and literature—accompanied fabric appropriations of land, exertions, and normal assets. Tobin convincingly argues that the depictions of tropical vegetation, gardens, and landscapes that circulated within the British mind's eye offer a key to realizing the forces that formed the British Empire.

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Extra resources for Colonizing Nature: The Tropics in British Arts and Letters, 1760-1820

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Performing very subtle ideological work surrounding the issue of labor, Virgil’s Georgics splits the practice of agriculture into two kinds of labor: physical and intellectual. The farmer who labors with his body and his hands is present in the text, in passages that describe “relentless toil”12: . . So that unless You harry the weeds with unrelenting mattock And scare the birds with noise, and with your billhook Cut back the branches overshadowing Your ground, and pray to the gods for rain, alas Too late you will eye your neighbour’s ample store And shake an oak in the woods to comfort hunger.

Farming is doing battle with nature for control of its reproductive forces; the farmer’s tools are “the weapons the hardy farmer needs,/ Essential for the sowing and raising of crops” (:–). ” This “I,” the poet-farmer we can call him for convenience, knows everything there is to know about farming (or seems to). The speaker’s superiority is underscored not only by his knowing everything and telling the farmer what to do but by his knowing what is best for the peasant-farmer. The farmer who works with his hands does not know he is happy: “How lucky, if they know their happiness,/ Are farmers” (:).

53 I have applied these ideas about the processes of decontextualization and recontextualization inherent to collecting to the problem of plants and the kinds of meanings they can have. Important to the project of recovering the meaning of tropical plants is a sense of the range of meanings they may have had in the cultures of “origin” (for lack of a better word), before they were taken up, literally and figuratively, by Europeans. Key in shaping my understanding of indigenous and traditional systems of knowledge is the work of Native Hawaiian activists and academics who have sought to decolonize the official history of Hawai‘i and the colonialist assumptions about Hawaiian culture, work such as Haunani Trask’s From a Native Daughter, Lilikala- Kame‘eleihiwa’s Native Land and Foreign Desires: Pehea La- E Pono Ai?

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