Georg J. Kamel: Natural Knowledge in Transit

Santorio Lecture 2020

Georg Joseph Kamel S. J. (1661-1706)

Natural Knowledge in Transit between the Philippines and Europe

Sebastien Kroupa

This lecture draws on one of the chapters from my dissertation, which is concerned with the communications of medical and natural knowledge between the Philippines and Europe at the turn of the eighteenth century.

My PhD traces movements of knowledge from the point of local negotiations between indigenous people and European colonists to worldwide movements and receptions, as I seek to decentre previous narratives of the mobility of early modern knowledge and recover the agencies of individuals and communities previously regarded as peripheral.

I demonstrate that input from local traditions, and from agents across the socio-cultural spectrum were essential to the production and mobilisation of knowledge, which was negotiated in complex cross-cultural situations. By pluralising the sites, agents and traditions involved, I point towards more inclusive geographies of early modern knowledge.

In this lecture, I will focus on the medical practices of the Jesuit pharmacist Georg Joseph Kamel. In 1687, Kamel was sent as a missionary to the Philippines, then a colony under the Spanish flag. During his stay, he produced comprehensive treatises concerned with Philippine nature, in which he included episodes from his medical practice.
I will use these sources to demonstrate how Kamel understood Philippine nature and incorporated local materia medica into European frameworks of knowledge. Previous work concerned with European encounters with new worlds has tended to highlight the desire of colonists for new, profitable plants on the one hand, and the insufficiency of Old World remedies in the face of new realities on the other.Kamel’s work offers a markedly different view. Although Kamel regularly adopted native materia medica into his medical practice, I argue that he understood these plants predominantly as substitutes for Old World drugs, which were too expensive to import.