Matthew Abel

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Kenyon College

Grant number

Gr. 10649

Approve Date

April 15, 2024

Project Title

Abel, Matthew (Kenyon College) "The Ethnoecology of Colonial Bioprospecting under the North American Fur and Amazonian Drogas do Sertão Trades (1600-1850): An Applied Natural History"

Bioprospecting, or the search for biological materials for the purpose of commercial exploitation, played a decisive role in the European colonization of Amazonia and North America. In the Amazon, merchants and missionaries drew on Indigenous labor and environmental knowledge in pursuit of the drogas do sertão, or “forest drugs”: an ensemble of medicinal, food, and confectionary products extracted for sale to European and east Asian markets. This trade in tropical forest products paralleled the expansion of European powers across northern North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Under the fur trade, colonizers recruited Indigenous people to procure animal pelts, as well as botanicals, fish, timber, and medicinals. Through collaboration with two community-based archaeology projects, this research examines the comparative history and ethnoecology of bioprospecting in the Amazon Delta and Pacific Northwest with important implications for contemporary land and environmental justice activists. Results will be shared with descendant communities and research institutions in the eastern Amazon and British Columbia. This study will also culminate in a multilingual online exhibit that recounts the twin histories of the Amazonian drogas do sertão and North American fur trades via the plant and animal materials traded under both systems of colonial extractivism.