Matthew James Crawford

Matthew James Crawford is associate professor in the Department of History at Kent State University and author of The Andean Wonder Drug: Cinchona Bark and Imperial Science in the Spanish Atlantic, 1630–1800.

Drugs on the Page

Pharmacopoeias and Healing Knowledge in the Early Modern Atlantic World

In the early modern Atlantic World, pharmacopoeias—official lists of medicaments and medicinal preparations published by municipal, national, or imperial governments—organized the world of healing goods, giving rise to new and valuable medical commodities such as cinchona bark, guaiacum, and ipecac. Pharmacopoeias and related texts, developed by governments and official medical bodies as a means to standardize therapeutic practice, were particularly important to scientific and colonial enterprises. They served, in part, as tools for making sense of encounters with a diversity of peoples, places, and things provoked by the commercial and colonial expansion of early modern Europe.
Drugs on the Page explores practices of recording, organizing, and transmitting information about medicinal substances by artisans, colonial officials, indigenous peoples, and others who, unlike European pharmacists and physicians, rarely had a recognized role in the production of official texts and medicines. Drawing on examples across various national and imperial contexts, contributors to this volume offer new and valuable insights into the entangled histories of knowledge resulting from interactions and negotiations between Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans from 1500 to 1850.

The Andean Wonder Drug

Cinchona Bark and Imperial Science in the Spanish Atlantic, 1630-1800

In the eighteenth century, malaria was a prevalent and deadly disease, and the only effective treatment was found in the Andean forests of Spanish America: a medicinal bark harvested from cinchona trees that would later give rise to the antimalarial drug quinine. In 1751, the Spanish Crown asserted control over the production and distribution of this medicament by establishing a royal reserve of “fever trees” in Quito. Through this pilot project, the Crown pursued a new vision of imperialism informed by science and invigorated through commerce. But ultimately this project failed, much like the broader imperial reforms that it represented. Drawing on extensive archival research, Matthew Crawford explains why, showing how indigenous healers, laborers, merchants, colonial officials, and creole elites contested European science and thwarted imperial reform by asserting their authority to speak for the natural world. The Andean Wonder Drug uses the story of cinchona bark to demonstrate how the imperial politics of knowledge in the Spanish Atlantic ultimately undermined efforts to transform European science into a tool of empire.