John M Vito

John M Vito

Clements Markham and the Social Apparatus of a Cinchona Mission in the British Informal Empire (1859-1861).


John Vito


Dr. Vassiliki Smocovitis


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


This project uses the publications of British explorer Clements Markham (1830-1916) to examine the intersections between the histories of medicine, botany, and empire. It focuses on Markham’s cinchona collecting expedition to the Andes in the time interval from 1859-1861. Cinchona bark, a well-known febrifuge, was administered to treat malaria. Interested in establishing cinchona plantations for access to the medication, the Secretary of British India recruited Markham, already an explorer of Peru and Antarctica, to superintend several expeditions to the Andes. The focal point of this article is not directly on Markham but the less visible actors in the collection of cinchona. Markham solicited the aid of Peruvian guides, cascarilleros (bark strippers), and indigenous people to complete his expedition. These actors fall under the designation of intermediaries in the study of the British informal empire. They lent Markham their skills, knowledge, and resources to complete his mission. They did this in face of local opposition to Markham’s mission led by a man named Don Manuel Martel. Martel, among others, took issue with Markham’s collecting because British cinchona plantations would likely crowd out the Peruvian bark trade. Through the lens of informal empire, Markham acted as an agent of the British and used South American intermediaries as a tool to extract resources from Peru. This project fits within the historiographies of botany, medicine, and informal imperialism, showcasing the integral role of local populations in the system of economic botany outside of the formal colonies of Britain.


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Research Pitch

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