Benjamin Breen

Ph.D. Candidate
Department of History
University of Texas, Austin

2011 to 2012
Dissertation Research Fellow

Cures from New Worlds: the Portuguese Tropics and the Origins of the Global Drug Trade, 1640-1760

Abstract. The early modern Portuguese empire served as the site of one of the most important botanical transfers in history: the circulation of medicinal drugs such as opium, tobacco, cinchona, ipecac and cacao between the emporia of the Americas, Africa and Asia. The merchants, mariners and cultivators who helped create and sustain this trade played a key role as catalysts in the eighteenth-century transformations of both global medical consumption and scientific understandings of nature and the human body, yet their history remains largely unwritten. Drawing upon evidence from mercantile records, scientific correspondence, historical archeology and textual accounts of healers, botanists and apothecaries in the British and Portuguese colonies, this dissertation explores how the urgent necessity of staying alive on the frontiers of empire forged new links between local knowledge and global trade – and between Lusophone ‘botanical go-betweens’ and key figures in the history of science and medicine such as Robert Boyle, William Dampier and Hans Sloane.