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Ex epistulis Philippinensibus: Georg Joseph KamelSJ (1661–1706) and His Correspondence Network

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When sent as a pharmacist to the Philippines in 1688, the Bohemian Jesuit Georg Joseph Kamel turned to the local nature to identify resources, which he could use in his practice. Remarkably for a Jesuit of his low rank, Kamel soon entered into communication with European scholars and exchanged knowledge and materials with figures both in the Indies and Europe, namely Willem ten Rhijne (1647–1700), a Dutch botanist in Batavia; English surgeons in Madras; and two members of the Royal Society, the apothecary James Petiver (c.1665–1718) and the naturalist John Ray (1627–1705). Based on an analysis of the letters and consignments involved, this article provides an insight into the construction and operation of long-distance networks of knowledge exchange based on factors other than nationality and spanning geopolitical, social and confessional boundaries. Attention will be drawn to the associations between early modern colonial science and trade and, in particular, the role of local merchants as go-betweens. It will be shown how commercial routes provided the infrastructure for knowledge circulation; how agents who travelled by way of established networks of trade mediated material exchange on a global scale; and how intellectual and social incentives, as well as the etiquette of correspondence played a pivotal role in the formation and maintenance of Kamel’s correspondence network. Furthermore, in tracing knowledge exchange restricted to the colonial periphery and highlighting the agency of actors stationed overseas, this article contributes to the recent efforts to think beyond national and imperial narratives and re-examine colonial history from the view of the peripheries.



James Petiver, Jesuits, John Ray, knowledge circulation, medicine, natural history

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AHRC (1643605)