Nature’s Government - Science, Imperial Britain, and the Improvement of the World

Nature’s Government - Science, Imperial Britain, and the Improvement of the World

Product ID: 16008

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Author: Richard Drayton
Publisher: Orient Longman
Year: 2005
Language: English
Pages: 371
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8125022775


Nature’s Government is a daring attempt to juxtapose the histories of Britain, western science, and imperialism. It shows how colonial expansion, from the age of Alexander the Great to the twentieth century, led to complex kinds of knowledge. Science, and botany in particular, was fed by information culled from the exploration of the globe. At the same time science was useful to imperialism: it guided the exploitation of exotic environments and made conquest seem necessary, legitimate, and beneficial.

Drayton traces the history of his idea of improvement, from its Christian agrarian origins in the sixteenth century to its inclusion in theories of enlightened despotism. It was as providers of legitimacy, as much as of universal knowledge, aesthetic perfection, and agricultural plenty, he argues, that botanic gardens became instruments of government, first in Continental Europe, and by the late eighteenth century, in Britain and the British Empire.

At the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the rise of which throughout the nineteenth century is a central theme of this book, a pioneering scientific institution was added to a spectacular ornamental garden. At Kew, improving the world became a potent argument for both the patronage of science at home and Britain’s prerogatives abroad. Nature’s Government provides a portrait of how the ambitions of the enlightenment shaped the great age of British power, and how empire changed the British experience and the modern world.


For anyone serious about understanding the modern world (it is) required reading.
-Times Literary Supplement

A sweeping, imaginative, skillfully crafted, well written, and beautifully illustrated book, A pleasure to read. He has succeeded in breaking down the Chinese walls which have separated British domestic and imperial history.
-American Historical Review

A story teller’s sense of narrative and rhythm.
-Scotland on Sunday

Nature’s Government uncovers how the noble task of improving the rest of the world through the application of science unerringly brought wealth and prosperity to the home country.
-New Scientist

Since there are more than a handful of facets to imperialism, studies that move the seemingly peripheral aspects into the centre of attention are needed. This book is one of the most inspiring works falling into this category.
-British Journal for the History of Science

It is a rare study in the history of science which challenges our assumptions about the nature of empire itself.
-M T Bravo, Cambridge University

Nature’s Government represent (s) some of the very best work on the historical culture of the sciences that now characterizes the field.
-David N Livingstone






The World in a Garden

Plants and Power

The Useful Garden-Agriculture and the Science of Government


Improving the British Empire: Sir Joseph Banks and Kew, 1783-1820

From Royal to Public-The Reform of Kew, 1820-41

The Professional and the Empire-The Hookers at Kew, 1841-73

The Government of Nature

Epilogue: At the Crossroads