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Master, I Can Cure You: Talking Plants in the Sugar Islands

Master, I Can Cure You: Talking Plants in the Sugar Islands

(p.109) Three Master, I Can Cure You: Talking Plants in the Sugar Islands
The Freedom of Speech
Miles Ogborn
University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines forms of speech involved in interactions with the islands’ plant life. It investigates how plants were talked about, who was part of those exchanges, what was at stake in that talk, and how that changed over time. In particular, it examines the relationship between European natural history and the knowledge of Caribbean flora developed by the enslaved. Three ways of talking are identified. ‘Botanical prescription’ is outlined as a way of discussing the uses of plants in medicine that is rooted in the healer-patient dialogue in the sickroom. ‘Botanical conversation’ communicates forms of botanical and horticultural knowledge about plant classification and acclimatization, and was shared among gentlemanly networks – both on the islands and across the Atlantic world – and located in the plantation gardens from which plants and knowledge were exchanged. Finally, ‘botanic oration’ involved public forms of speech about botany in the Age of Abolition, which sought a new imperial role for the sugar islands, and involved the establishment of botanical gardens as privileged spaces of knowledge. It is argued that only the first of these opens a space for the voices of the enslaved, a space that was gradually shut down over the period.

Keywords:   plants, botanical knowledge, medicine, natural history, horticultural knowledge, conversation, botanical gardens, oration

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