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Conservation and Society
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Conservation and Society
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Year : 2006  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 628-629

The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science, 1800-1856

Department of History, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YG, United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
Deborah Sutton
Department of History, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YG
United Kingdom
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Date of Web Publication26-Jun-2009

How to cite this article:
Sutton D. The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science, 1800-1856. Conservat Soc 2006;4:628-9

How to cite this URL:
Sutton D. The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science, 1800-1856. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2006 [cited 2020 Aug 4];4:628-9. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2006/4/4/628/55805

David Arnold. The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science, 1800-1856. Permanent Black, 2005, 320 pp. Rs 695. ISBN: 81-7824- 129-3.

The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze explores the means through which travelling Europeans (largely British with some French and German support) described and, in the manner of postcolonial studies, constituted the Indian landscape in the first-half of the nineteenth century. Arnold's orchestration of the vast corpus of texts he draws upon is elegant and richly evocative. In a broadly chronological series of chapters, The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze describes the importance of networks of association, friendships and scholarship, as well as the contingencies of travel, experience and taste in the making of landscape texts. Social and cultural impulses were enmeshed in the creation of geographical and botanical truths. Arnold foregrounds the relationship between prose and place in a series of sobriquets: 'Empire of Affect', 'epistolary empire' and 'empire of sentiment'.

Each chapter presents an analysis of narratives of place from the lateeighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. 'In a Land of Death' explores the morbid and pious associations of the Indian landscape in the European imagination. Perceptions of the Indian landscape, both its natural attributes and its monuments commemorative of the effects of the climate on European health, merged to create an aesthetic, which was communicated privately and then often publicly, in the published letters and diaries of their authors. Throughout the book, Arnold stresses the complex interdependence of metropolitan science and the ranks of those who travelled, collected and sent home-as text or desiccated sample-the results of their work, motivated by friendship, the relief of boredom or an ambition to establish themselves in the European hub of science. Despite the clear, and growing, dependence of metropolitan science on these networks during the period, the eminence of the European institution, and indeed European science itself, was protected. Advancement within the scientific community of Europe depended upon the patronage of metropolitan sponsors who would collate and re-transmit the information supplied by colonial runners. These networks had an ambiguous relationship with Imperial politics; certainly no simplistic relationship can be drawn between scientific and governmental projects.

'Romanticism and Improvement' describes the tension between the romantic and progressive urges of authors. The desire to relish a landscape designated and enjoyed as 'past' co-existed with the drive to transform lands proximate to or under Company authority. The former desire is given the greatest coverage in Arnold's analysis. The chapter is strikingly uneven: thirty-one pages are dedicated to Romance, whereas only five pages tucked at the end of the chapter describe the endeavours of material 'improvement'. 'From the Orient to the Tropics' re-states an argument that Arnold has made elsewhere: that 'Tropicality' rather than being simply a subcategory of Said's Orientalism emerged to become a marker of difference linked specifically to the sub-continental landscape. The process through which India was designated as 'tropical' was not without equivocation. Much of Indian landscape initially disappointed as a tropical region, especially compared with other 'edenic' (to use Richard Grove's term) landscapes elsewhere. Only gradually, through the consolidation of geo-cultural climatic typologies, was India's place in the tropics secured.

The most engaging narratives are concerned with the affectionate, tempestuous and often fragile relationships through which scientific knowledge was facilitated. Arnold evokes the texture of these relationships with a brio of expression that seems to be derived from the writings of the men themselves. There are some wonderful and sympathetic illuminations of eighteenth and nineteenth century analytics, for example, Joseph Hooker's observation that the purpose of comparison (in his case of the Himalayas to, say, the Highlands of Scotland) was not simply a representational shortcut; the direct comparison of two superficially very similar scenes facilitated the identification and consideration of difference.

Arnold surveys the careers of men, most prominently Joseph Hooker, who made their way as collectors, writers and cartographers. The narrative of the text follows the movements, careers and gaze of key authors, tightly binding biography to place. We visit 'Tod's Rajasthan', Buchanan's Mysore and Carnatic and Hooker's Himalayas. Enthusiasts of history of science biography may find the life histories truncated, restricted largely to the texts that bound them to India, while others may find the Indian landscape to be a rather elliptical presence in the narrative. Nevertheless, this is a richly researched, beautifully written and enjoyable book.


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