Spanish naturalists established the Viceregal Botanical Garden of New Spain in Mexico City in 1788 to advance agriculture, manufacturing, and medicine. This colonial institution also served the ideological role of cultivating agents of empire. Rather than establish the garden in the already robust tradition of American botany, Spanish botanists appropriated this space, employing Creole students and servant workers to Europeanize local botanical knowledge through taxonomic colonialism. The different agendas at work in the botanical garden, which straddled the colonial and revolutionary periods in Mexico, destabilized not only this institution, but also the empire itself from the ground up. That the contributions of the agents of the garden have been forgotten is evidence of the fragility and failure of a European institution in the American colonial state.
Anna Toledano is a PhD candidate at Stanford University studying history of science. Her dissertation, “Collecting Empire: The Science and Politics of Natural History Museums in New Spain, 1770–1820,” focuses on natural history collecting in eighteenth-century Spain and Spanish America. Currently she is co-editing an illustrated volume on early modern nature studies entitled Natural Things in Early Modern Worlds, forthcoming from Routledge.
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