Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800

By Daniela Bleichmar; Paula De Vos et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
Acquisition and Circulation of
Medical Knowledge within the Early
Modern Portuguese Colonial Empire

TIMOTHY WALKER

Portuguese colonial expansion during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries had a profoundly important scientific dimension, the impact of which has far outlasted the economic ascendancy of the Lusophone maritime empire. Portuguese exploration added extensively to the human understanding of global navigation and geography, but contributions to the fields of pharmacological botany and medicine were no less significant. (On the work of Portuguese navigators in this global exchange, see Almeida in Chapter 4.) Descriptive works about Asian, African, and South American medicinal plants by Portuguese observers during the early modern period introduced Europeans to many of the efficacious drugs commonly employed in extra-European healing traditions. In the Portuguese colonies, medical practitioners encountered a radically different sphere of healing knowledge, one that they would explore, exploit, expropriate, and export for more than three and a half centuries. In an unmatched feat of scientific acquisition and dissemination, Portuguese colonial officials spread indigenous drugs and information about various native healing methods to European territories on four continents.

This chapter will examine the role and influence within Portugal’s maritime dominions of medical techniques, remedies, and drugs originating

I wish to thank the American Institute of Indian Studies and the National Endowment of
the Humanities; this research was completed with a grant provided through these orga-
nizations. For logistical support in Goa, I am grateful to the Fundação Oriente and the
Xavier Centre for Historical Research. I also wish to thank Professor Luís Felipe Thomaz
for his assistance.

-247-

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