This article explores the Spanish crown's efforts to study, cultivate, and transplant spices from the East Indies to the West Indies and then to Spain in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Beginning with Christopher Columbus's first observations of New World flora, the Spanish crown sought out spices to cultivate for economic gain. Although they were ultimately unsuccessful in efforts to generate a large-scale spice trade, colonial officials and local entrepreneurs participated in a coordinated program of empirical information gathering and botanical experimentation that is itself of historical significance. For the empirical and experimental—"scientific"—methods they represented serve to challenge and enhance current understanding of several historiographical themes: the origins of economic botany and the Scientific Revolution more generally, the role of human agency in the Columbian exchange, and the dissemination of knowledge from imperial centers to colonial peripheries.


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pp. 399-427
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