Colonizing Nature: The Tropics in British Arts and Letters, by Beth Fowkes Tobin

By Beth Fowkes Tobin

With its keep watch over of sugar plantations within the Caribbean and tea, cotton, and indigo creation in India, Britain within the eighteenth and 19th centuries ruled the worldwide economic climate of tropical agriculture. In Colonizing Nature, Beth Fowkes Tobin indicates how dominion over "the tropics" as either a area and an idea turned imperative to the way Britons imagined their position within the world.

Tobin examines georgic poetry, panorama portraiture, typical historical past writing, and botanical prints produced by way of Britons within the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and India to discover how every one performed a vital position in constructing the idea that the tropics have been concurrently paradisiacal and wanting British intervention and administration. Her research examines how slave backyard pictures denied the horticultural services of the slaves, how the East India corporation employed such artists as William Hodges to color and thereby Anglicize the panorama and gardens of British-controlled India, and the way writers from Captain James prepare dinner to Sir James E. Smith depicted tropical lands and plants.

Just as mastery of tropical nature, and particularly its capability for agricultural productiveness, grew to become key thoughts within the formation of British imperial id, Colonizing Nature means that highbrow and visible mastery of the tropics—through the production of paintings and literature—accompanied fabric appropriations of land, hard work, and ordinary assets. Tobin convincingly argues that the depictions of tropical vegetation, gardens, and landscapes that circulated within the British mind's eye supply a key to figuring out the forces that formed the British Empire.

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The Roman audience for this poem was patrician as well. In his discussion of the Georgics, L. P. ” He argues that the poem was not written for farmers because it leaves out information that a real farmer would need to be successful, and some of the information on farming (particularly grafting  Chapter  and beekeeping) is incorrect. ” Wilkinson also points out how Virgil omits any mention of slavery in the poem, an omission that is very surprising since most farms relied on slave labor. Wilkinson concludes that this omission was intentional because Virgil wanted to avoid the potentially explosive topic of Caesarian landholding policies, and so he created an idealized figure, the colonus, “an old-fashioned yeoman” as Wilkinson says, without distinguishing between tenant and freeholder, someone who works a small farm with his hands.

Returning to the elegant pair and their dalliance, I want to explore the quality of grace that suffuses this whole scene and to ask why the noise, the smell, and chaos of Luffman’s description does not enter into Brunias’s image even though it is a market scene complete with a child beating a drum. The answer, as one may suspect, has to do not only with genre but also with Brunias’s aestheticizing practices. Brunias’s pictures of economic exchange, in particular French Mulatress Purchasing Fruit from a Negro Wench and A West Indian Flower Girl (Figure ), are genre paintings, which, unlike portraiture or history painting, have ordinary life as their subject.

The chapter on botanical books explores the processes whereby tropical nature is divested of local meanings and inserted into “universal” categories, which are ultimately just as local in their social significance. Recontextualized as exotics and rarities, tropical plants circulated within British culture as imperial trophies and as a form of cultural capital. The chapters on georgical writing and botanical books interrogate the construction of knowledge about plants, demonstrating how the kind of knowledge that local producers possessed was ignored and dismissed while the kind of knowledge that can circulate shorn of specifics and locale became valorized for being “scientific” and universal.

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