Rehabilitating Botany in the Postwar Moment: National Promise and the Encyclopedism of Eduardo Quisumbing’s Medicinal Plants of the Philippines (1951)

in Asian Review of World Histories
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Abstract

In 1951, plant taxonomist Eduardo Quisumbing published Medicinal Plants of the Philippines, a 1,234–page volume on the palliative and curative applications of Philippine flora. Considered the standard contemporary reference on medical botany, Quisumbing’s work has informed generations of human scientists, botanists, and chemists from the archipelago. This paper, however, poses the question: What did Quisumbing, a trained orchidist, have to do with such a wide-ranging postwar publication—one quite distant from his scientific specialization—that would be (mistakenly) remembered as his magnum opus? Through a close reading of the text informed by the work’s intertextuality and Quisumbing’s personal archive, I argue that Medicinal Plants of the Philippines captures a type of encyclopedism undertaken in order to recuperate Manila’s Bureau of Science following World War ii. This encyclopedism speaks to the book’s curious character: strictly speaking, it is neither a pharmacopoeia nor a flora. Instead, it is a compendium of principally invasive species and their medicinal uses around the world that draws from over 630 academic publications. Caught within the tangle of postwar national reconstruction efforts, Quisumbing’s book evidences a considerable investment in intellectual knowledge production to assert the country’s newfound independence while shoring up public support for Philippine botanic and scientific research.

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