Therapeutic trajectories in the age of empire
in Materials and medicine
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This chapter focuses on three different forms of medical knowledge acquired by the British in the colonies: plants (columba roots and Swietenia febrifuga), natural objects and indigenous medical preparations (Tanjore pills). Each of these demonstrates important engagements that took place between materials and ideas as they travelled within and outside the British empire. The chapter highlights how, through colonial transmutations of items and ideas, therapeutic materials were shorn of their content and then new genealogies of the materials of modern medicine were created. The case of columba shows that British attempts to identify the origins of medicinal items of the East, even those familiar to them, often became an exercise in obscuration. William Roxburgh discovered the Swietenia febrifuga and published a treatise on the astringent qualities of its bark, which he sent to the Court of Directors to promote it as an alternative to the Peruvian bark.

Materials and medicine

Trade, conquest and therapeutics in the eighteenth century

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