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Pantropical VSS 1: Balsam & cacao: Westward movement of medicinal knowledge & food culture across the early modern Pacific

September 29, 2021 @ 9:00 am - 10:00 am

PANTROPICAL Virtual Seminar Series #1

Prof. Angela Schottenhammer on ‘Balsam & cacao: Westward movement of medicinal knowledge & food culture across the early modern Pacific’

ABSTRACT: ‘Peruvian’ balsam and cacao were two allegedly marginal and almost ‘invisible’ products that were shipped from America (Acapulco) across the Pacific to the Philippines. This balsam, the resin or oil of (Myroxylon balsamum (L.) Harms var. pereirae (Royle) Harms), originated mainly from an area in Mesoamerica called the ‘Balsam coast’. It was, for example, highly valued by Chinese court elites, who appreciated its medical properties. Knowledge about this balsam, interestingly, even found its way into historical Chinese maps. But it obviously remained a relatively rare and exotic product in Asia. Cacao trees (Theobroma cacao), on the other hand, were eventually transplanted in the Philippines. The cacao was supposed to serve as nutritious food & drink and as cash crop, to pay for all the imports from China, limiting, thus, the drain of silver from the Spanish world to China and making the Philippines economically more independent. My presentation will provide insights into specific features of the transpacific transhipment, of related knowledge transfers, and the uses of these two originally American botanica in the Philippines and China.

BIO: Angela Schottenhammer (蕭婷) is full professor of Chinese Middle Period & Early Modern World History at KU Leuven, Belgium, and Selected Senior Researcher the School of Economics at Shanghai University (经济学院, 上海大学). From 2009 to 2020 she has also been research director and adjunct professor at the Indian Ocean World Centre (IOWC), Faculty of History and Classical Studies, McGill University, Canada.

She obtained her Ph.D. in 1993 from Würzburg University with a thesis on “Song Period Tomb inscriptions” (M.A. 1989 on Liao Mosha and the Cultural Revolution) and her Habilitation degree 2000 from Munich University with a thesis on the port city of Quanzhou during the Song period (960–1279).

Angela is director of the Crossroads Research Centre (https://crossroads-research.net), chief editor of an interdisciplinary journal and two book series, and has widely published on Chinese history, archaeology & culture, on China and her historical relations with the Silk Roads (both continental and maritime), and on China’s integration into global structures.

KEEN TO JOIN? All welcome! Please email pantropocene@gmail.com to join the mailing list for this, and other PANTROPICA talks.

Note that talk times are given as CEST times (Berlin)


September 29, 2021
9:00 am - 10:00 am
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Rebecca Hamilton